Roughly one year ago, German automakers were confronted with a crisis. Following Volkswagen’s diesel emissions fiasco, European antitrust regulators became suspicious that BMW, Daimler, and VW Group were involved in a longstanding automotive cartel that cooperated on decisions regarding technical issues, development, supplier management, and illegal price fixing. Investigators were also concerned manufacturers worked together to standardize diesel treatment fluid (AdBlue) reservoirs to reduce exhaust emissions, then encouraged each other to cheat on emissions tests when they were deemed insufficient.
This resulted in a series of raids and then almost a full year of silence on the matter. However, if Volkswagen’s dieselgate has taught us anything, it’s that German authorities prefer a snail’s pace when pursuing a criminal probe.
Apparently unsatisfied with the initial findings, the European Commission opened an in-depth and official investigation on Tuesday against the “circle of five,” a group that includes Audi, VW, Porsche, Daimler, and BMW. The quintet is accused of holding meetings where they colluded to limit the development and application of certain emissions control systems for cars sold in Europe. There’s also an accusation of price fixing.
It appears the fictional JR Ewing isn’t the only one having to deal with cartels. Antitrust regulators in the EU have fined five safety equipment suppliers a combined 34 million euros ($40 million) for taking part in a scheme to fix prices for seat belts and airbags sold to Japanese automakers.
The cartels were allegedly supplying the safety equipment to Toyota, Suzuki, and Honda at inflated prices between calendar years 2004 and 2010.
Following an earlier raid at BMW, Daimler AG and Volkswagen Group were also searched by antitrust officials from the European Union Commission and German government this week. Despite claiming whistleblower status, Daimler is still subject to investigation — though it’s less likely to incur the same financial penalties if the collusion charges go to court.
Over the summer, investigators from the EU stated there would be an investigation into several German carmakers after allegations surfaced that companies conspired to fix prices on various automotive technologies over several decades. But it wasn’t until Monday that officials searched Daimler’s corporate offices and collected documents from Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg and at Audi’s home base in Ingolstadt.