EC, German regulator studying reports of auto collusion

MUNICH • The European Commission (EC) and the German cartel office have received information about possible collusion among German automakers and are studying the matter, according to a statement released on Saturday.

“It is premature at this stage to speculate further,” according to the statement from the commission’s executive arm. “The commission and national competition authorities cooperate closely with each other on such issues in the context of the European Competition Network.”

A report in Der Spiegel magazine last week said the biggest car manufacturers — Daimler AG, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG (VW) as well as VW’s Audi and Porsche brands — may have colluded for decades on technology. The companies declined to comment.

The magazine’s report cited a document submitted by VW in July 2016 and referenced another from Daimler. The German cartel office, or Bundeskartellamt, said in a statement last Friday that it searched the car companies last year as part of a probe into a possible steel cartel. It didn’t elaborate on a possible follow-up probe on car technology, saying it can’t comment on ongoing investigations.

According to the Spiegel report, the five German car brands met starting in the 1990s to coordinate activities related to their vehicle technology, costs, suppliers and strategy as well as emissions controls in diesel engines. The discussions involved more than 200 employees in 60 working groups in areas including auto development, petrol and diesel motors, brakes and transmissions. Talks may have also involved the size of tanks for AdBlue fluid for diesel autos, the magazine reported, which is at the heart of the emissions case.

The Spiegel article said that one aim of the collusion was to obstruct competition, with the carmakers agreeing on costs for components or technical details such as convertible roofs. — Bloomberg