The European Commission (EC) has fined Volkswagen Group and BMW a total of €875 million for colluding to restrict competition on emission-cleaning equipment for diesel engines, according to a Reuters report.
The ruling set a precedent by extending the application of European competition law to technical-level discussions between industry players. The case involved talks held a decade ago regarding design standards for AdBlue, an additive used to cleanse nitrogen oxide from the exhaust gases produced by diesel-powered cars.
According to the report, the EU found the manufacturers colluded to agree on AdBlue tank sizes and ranges, and negotiated a common understanding of AdBlue consumption.
Speaking at a media conference in Brussels, European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, said the EC had never encountered a cartel whose purpose was to restrict the use of novel technology, Reuters reported.
“The five car manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emission standards,” Vestager said. “But they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law.
“So today’s decision is about how legitimate technical co-operation went wrong. And we do not tolerate it when companies collude. It is illegal under EU antitrust rules.
“Competition and innovation on managing car pollution are essential for Europe to meet our ambitious Green Deal objectives. And this decision shows that we will not hesitate to take action against all forms of cartel conduct putting in jeopardy this goal.”
Vestager said all parties agreed to settle the case and acknowledged their role in the cartel. Volkswagen, however, said the penalty set a questionable precedent and is considering legal action.
“The commission is entering new judicial territory, because it is treating technical co-operation for the first time as an antitrust violation,” said Volkswagen, adding that customers suffered no harm.
Reuters said Volkswagen was fined €502 million, 45 per cent less than it would have been had the automaker not come forward early with details of the collusion. BMW was fined €373 million minus a 10 per cent discount for settling the case, while Daimler escaped a penalty of €727 million because it was the first to admit guilt to EC investigators, according to Forbes.
The penalties and investigation were claimed to be unrelated to ongoing action on emissions “defeat devices”.