Cartel against emission cleaning technologies. The European Commission sends its Statement of Objections to German car manufacturers

On 5 April 2019, the European Commission sent BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen a Statement of Objections accusing the companies of taking part in a collusive scheme, from 2006 to 2014, to limit the development and roll-out of emission cleaning technologies for new diesel and petrol passenger cars sold in the European Economic Area (EEA).

The Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules, and follows the inspections carried out in October 2017 at the premises of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi in Germany and the opening of an in-depth investigation in September 2018.

The technologies investigated by the Commission are, in particular, the selective catalytic reduction systems to reduce harmful nitrogen oxides emissions of diesel passenger cars and the ‘Otto’ particle filters to reduce harmful particle emissions from the exhaust gases of petrol passenger cars with direct injection. In the first case, the companies coordinated their urea dosing strategies and its tank size and refill ranges with the common understanding that they thereby limited its consumption and exhaust gas cleaning effectiveness. In the second case, they coordinated to avoid, or at least delay, the introduction of the latest technologies in their new (direct injection) petrol passenger car models between 2009 and 2014.

Such behaviours are likely to violate competition rules in the anti-pollution technologies sector, thus denying consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers.

The parties can now examine the documents in the Commission’s investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities. If, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, the Commission will conclude that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it could adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.

Sara Capruzzi