The European Union has fined BMW, VW, Audi, and Porsche $1 billion for “cartel behavior” in conspiring to curb the development of clean-emissions technology, while Daimler got a pass for informing on its co-conspirators.
EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager slapped German carmakers with the hefty fine, alleging that, even though the companies in question had the technology to cut harmful emissions, they deliberately shied away from competition, denying their customers the option to buy cleaner cars.
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“Today, the Commission took a decision against five car manufacturers – Daimler, BMW, as well as Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche, which are part of the Volkswagen group. The Commission imposed a total fine of €875 million. These car manufacturers illegally colluded to restrict competition in the area of emission-cleaning technology for diesel cars,” Vestager said in a statement posted on the European Commission website.
“’Factories compete with one another also when it comes to reducing carbon emissions from the cars. Manufacturers deliberately avoided to compete on cleaning better […] And they did so despite the relevant technology being available,” the statement reads.
Vestager outlined that, between 2009 and 2014, representatives of the five companies in question attended the so-called ‘circle of five’ technical meetings, where they decided to put on hold the technological developments able to curb harmful nitrogen oxide gas emissions of their diesel cars.
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“They knew that they had the technical possibility to clean better than required by law and compete on this important parameter relevant for consumers. Instead, they decided to collude by indicating to each other that none of them would aim at cleaning above the minimum standard required by law,” Vestager slapped.
The VW group will now have to pay the major portion of the fine, some $594 million (€502mn), while BMW is to pay the rest. Daimler was not fined, however, as it exposed the cartel to the European Commission.
VW said it would “carefully review” the EU’s ruling and decide whether to take legal action against the fine, according to a statement cited by Reuters. The group argues that fining companies over technical talks about emissions technology could set a questionable precedent.
“The commission is entering new judicial territory, because it is treating technical cooperation for the first time as an antitrust violation. Furthermore, it is imposing fines, although the content of the talks was never implemented and no customers suffered any harm as a result,” Volkswagen said in a statement.
BMW, on the other hand, relieved the fine would bring the proceedings to a close, said its board of management had agreed to the settlement proposed by the European Commission.
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