* Carmakers can have exclusive dealers for further 3 years

* Industry bodies call for single regime for new car sales and after-sales service and repairs

* General competition rules for car sales applied after 2013

* Possible antitrust exemptions for after-sales service

(Adds industry body comments)

Carmakers can continue to set up networks of selective and exclusive dealerships for another three years in line with antitrust exemptions for the sector, European Union antitrust regulators said on Wednesday.

The European Commission said it saw no signs of significant competition shortcomings in the 27-nation bloc arising from the current exemptions, which are due to expire next May.

It is important to give the automotive sector, one of the most important sectors in the EU, legal certainty and predictability as to the future competition law regime, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

This holds even more true in times of crisis, she said.

The block exemption allows car manufacturers to bypass EU competition rules and sell cars through franchised dealerships.

The Commission said it proposed extending the current regulation for three years to 2013 and invited comments from interested parties by Sept 25.

The automotive industry worldwide has been hit hard by an unprecedented sales crisis fuelled by the global economic slowdown, with some automakers newly emerging from bankruptcy and many struggling to reinvent themselves. [ID:nCARS1]

The DJ Stoxx auto index .SXAP was 0.1 percent higher by 1440 GMT, bucking a mildly negative pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index.

Auto industry body CECRA welcomed the three-year extension and urged the Commission to have a common regulation for both new car sales and after-sales service and repairs.

Auto industry organisation ACEA, which represents 15 European car and bus makers, also said there should be a single regime for the sector.  There is no reason to maintain a separate, stricter and more complex legal regime for distribution agreements in the automotive sector, ACEA Secretary General Ivan Hodac said in a statement.

The Commission proposed applying general competition rules to new car sales after 2013, saying the sector faced problems with structural overcapacity and declining prices rather than competition shortcomings.

It said it might complement antitrust exemptions for the after sales service and repairs sector after the current regulation expire next year, with more specific proposals, depending on comments from interested parties.

These (exemptions) will address core aftermarket issues, such as independent operators' access to technical information, access to spare parts and access to the network of authorised repairers, the Commission said.

They will also address new issues which have become more prominent in recent years such as the misuse of warranties aimed at excluding independent repairers. (Editing by David Cowell and Marie Maitre)