The European Commission (EC) has taken a formal step against car manufacturers BMW, Daimler and the VW group, to object to practices that could be seen in breach of EU antitrust rules from 2006 to 2014, the EC announced Friday.
The EC sent a 'statement of objections' to BMW, Daimler and the VW group including Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, of its preliminary view that the three manufacturers restricted competition on emission cleaning technology, it said.
A statement of objections is a formal step in the Commission's investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules. This step is taken through informing the parties concerned in writing of objections raised against them.
"Companies can cooperate in many ways to improve the quality of their products. However, EU competition rules do not allow them to collude on exactly the opposite: not to improve their products, not to compete on quality," Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy was quoted as saying.
"We are concerned that this is what happened in this case and that Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology. The three car manufacturers now have the opportunity to respond to our findings," she continued.
The Commission's preliminary view is that the three companies participated in a collusive scheme, in breach of EU competition rules, to limit the development and roll-out of emission cleaning technology for new diesel and petrol passenger cars sold in the European Economic Area (EEA).
The EC said that this collusion occurred in the framework of the car manufacturers' so-called “circle of five” technical meetings.
The sending of a statement of objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, it added.
In October 2017, the Commission carried out inspections at the premises of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi in Germany, as part of its initial inquiries into possible collusion between car manufacturers on the technological development of passenger cars. The Commission opened an in-depth investigation in September 2018.
The EC noted that if after the parties have exercised their rights of defense, the Commission concludes that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and imposing a fine of up to 10 percent of a company's annual worldwide turnover.
By Ebru Sengul