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Today the Commission has decided to fine six suppliers of car parts ca. 155 million euros for their participation in four cartels. These suppliers are Denso, Valeo, Behr, Sanden, Panasonic and Calsonic. The cartels concerned air conditioning and engine cooling components for cars.
More specifically, they concerned main parts needed in a car to maintain the right temperature for both the passengers and the engine. This means air conditioning units, compressors, e-compressors for electric and hybrid cars and engine radiators and fans. These are essential components for making cars.
Instead of carving up markets to suit their own interests, companies should be competing with each other in terms of price and innovative products. We all want cars that are more efficient, less energy intensive and pollute less. This requires companies throughout the car supply chain to compete with each other for business and to bring new and better products to market.
This was a complex investigation. During our investigation we identified four separate cartels. These concerned supplies of different components to several car manufacturers. The car brands concerned are well known names like Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo or Suzuki and Nissan/Renault.
The six suppliers fined today participated in one or more of these four cartels. Specifically, they coordinated prices or markets, and exchanged sensitive information on the sale of the components they supplied to car manufacturers in Europe. As a result, car manufacturers may have been harmed directly, and final consumers may have been harmed indirectly when buying cars.
Coordination between the six suppliers took place in Europe but also in Asia. We have investigated this behaviour to the extent that it targeted the European market, but other markets were also targeted.
Some of the supplier meetings were held at management level in Europe and the suppliers also engaged in other and lower level contacts in Europe and Asia. The exchanges included discussions on prices and on so-called 'requests for quotations'. These are the tenders issued by car manufacturers to source components for their cars.
Take for example, the specific case of tenders for e-compressors. An electric compressor is an essential part of the air conditioning system used in electric and hybrid cars that provides air conditioning even when the car stops. At the same time it reduces energy consumption significantly compared to conventional compressors. It therefore fits in a future growth market. But instead of competing to deliver the best technology for the best price, the suppliers decided to collude. As a result, they carved up sales to the newly formed Nissan/Renault-group along traditional lines – the usual supplier was meant to continue supplying to one of these car brands each.
All six suppliers acknowledged their involvement in the cartels and agreed to settle the case. And all six of them also cooperated fully with the Commission.
We continue to encourage companies to cooperate with us to uncover and investigate cartels. If a company provides evidence to help the Commission find and prove a cartel, the fines will be reduced in accordance with our Leniency Notice.
In this case, Denso was not fined for three of the cartels as it was the first to reveal their existence to the Commission. Similarly, Panasonic was not fined for one of the cartels as it was the first to reveal its existence to the Commission. This shows that for companies cooperating under our Leniency Program speed is of the essence.
Finally, the Commission also applied a settlement reduction of 10% to the fines imposed.
The Commission's settlement procedure allows us to apply a simplified and shortened procedure. This works as an incentive for the companies involved, and it benefits consumers and taxpayers as it reduces costs and brings quicker results. It also helps antitrust enforcement by freeing up resources to tackle other suspected cartels.
The Commission is committed to continue preventing and punishing cartels affecting European markets wherever and however they may be organised. In fact, this is the sixth cartel decision in the car components sector since our investigations in this sector began in 2012.
Cartels undermine competition and mean that our markets fail to work as well as they should. Consumers may therefore not be getting the best products or the best prices.