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EU fines car parts, car carrier cartels EUR 546m

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EU fines car parts, car carrier cartels EUR 546m

Margrethe Vestager - Photo © European Union 2018

(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission fined Wednesday seven car supplying companies - shippers and suppliers of spark plug and braking systems - a total of EUR 546 million for taking part in four different cartels relating to cars.

The three separate decisions saw the EU executive fine four maritime car carriers EUR 395 million, two suppliers of spark plugs EUR 76 million, and two suppliers of braking systems EUR 75 million, for taking part in cartels in breach of EU antitrust rules. All companies acknowledged their involvement in the cartels and agreed to settle the cases.

"The three separate decisions taken today show that we will not tolerate anticompetitive behaviour affecting European consumers and industries," said the Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager: "By raising component prices or transport costs for cars, the cartels ultimately hurt European consumers and adversely impacted the competitiveness of the European automotive sector, which employs around 12 million people in the EU."

Of shipping companies, the Commission found that the Chilean maritime carrier CSAV, the Japanese carriers "K" Line, MOL and NYK, and the Norwegian/Swedish carrier WWL-EUKOR participated in a cartel concerning intercontinental maritime transport of vehicles, and imposed a total fine of €395 million.

For almost 6 years, from October 2006 to September 2012, the five carriers formed a cartel in the market for deep sea transport of new cars, trucks and other large vehicles such as combine harvesters and tractors, on various routes between Europe and other continents.

The EU probe revealed that, to coordinate anticompetitive behaviour, the carriers' sales managers met at each other's offices, in bars, restaurants or other social gatherings and were in contact over the phone on a regular basis. In particular, they coordinated prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially sensitive information about elements of the price, such as charges and surcharges added to prices to offset currency or oil prices fluctuations.

The carriers agreed to maintain the status quo in the market and to respect each other's traditional business on certain routes or with certain customers, by quoting artificially high prices or not quoting at all in tenders issued by vehicle manufacturers.

The cartel affected both European car importers and final customers, as imported vehicles were sold within the European Economic Area (EEA), and European vehicle manufacturers, as their vehicles were exported outside the EEA. In 2016, some 3.4 million motor vehicles were imported from non-EU countries, while the EU exported more than 6.3 million vehicles to non-EU countries in 2016. Almost half of these vehicles were transported by the carriers that have been fined today.

The second decision found that Bosch (Germany), Denso and NGK (both Japan) participated in a cartel concerning supplies of spark plugs to car manufacturers in the EEA and imposed a total fine of €76 million.

Spark plugs are automotive electric devices built in petrol engines of cars, delivering high voltage electric sparks to the combustion chamber. Bosch, Denso and NGK's customers are car manufacturers with production facilities in the EEA.

The cartel lasted from 2000 until 2011 and aimed at avoiding competition by respecting each other's traditional customers and maintaining the existing status quo in the spark plugs industry in the EEA.

The three companies exchanged commercially sensitive information and in some instances agreed on the prices to be quoted to certain customers, the share of supplies to specific customers and the respect of historical supply rights. This coordination took place through bilateral contacts between Bosch and NGK, and between Denso and NGK.

In a third decision, the Commission found two cartels relating to braking systems. The first concerned the supply of hydraulic braking systems (HBS) and involved TRW (USA, now ZF TRW, Germany), Bosch (Germany) and Continental (Germany). The second cartel concerned the supply of electronic braking systems (EBS) and involved Bosch and Continental. The Commission imposed a total fine of €75 million.

In both cartels, the three car part suppliers aimed at coordinating their market behaviour by exchanging sensitive information, including on pricing elements. The coordination took place at bilateral meetings and through phone conversations or email exchanges.

The first cartel lasted from February 2007 to March 2011 and related to discussions of general sales conditions of hydraulic braking systems for two customers, Daimler and BMW. The second cartel lasted from September 2010 to July 2011 and related to one specific tender for electronic braking systems for Volkswagen.

The EU decisions concerning spark plugs and braking systems are part of a series of major investigations into cartels in the automotive parts sector. The Commission has already fined suppliers of automotive bearings ,wire harnesses in cars, flexible foam used (inter alia) in car seats, parking heaters in cars and trucks, alternators and starters, air conditioning and engine cooling systems,lighting systems, and occupant safety systems.

More information on these cases will be available under the case number AT.40009 (maritime car carriers), AT.40113 (spark plugs) and AT.39920 (braking systems) in the public case register on the Commission's competition website, once confidentiality issues have been dealt with. For more information on the Commission's action against cartels, see its cartels website.


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