The allegations go back to July 2017 when all three car makers were accused of holding clandestine meetings and colluding for decades, on a variety of areas – from the cost of components, to the choice of suppliers on petrol and diesel vehicles.
The claims put the spotlight on the suspicious areas that separate Germany’s collegiate business culture and illegal cartel-like discussions. While EU rules do allow rivals to co-operate to share risk in order to innovate faster—this case focuses on discussions to hamper technological developments and delay their introductions. Brussels began an immediate investigation amid the political furore that Angela Merkel’s government had gotten too comfortable with the big car makers.
On Tuesday, the European Commission said that it had narrowed the scope of alleged wrongdoing, homing in on emissions technology – which has been a topic of contention since VW was caught cheating diesel emissions in the US three years ago.
The commission raised suspicions that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and its two luxury units- Audi and Porsche may have “agreed not to compete against each other”, breaching antitrust rules on technologies that reduce the damage cars cause to the environment.
Specifically, it is examining the development of nitrogen oxide treatment systems for diesel cars and particulate filters for petrol engines.
“If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less-polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers,” stated Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner.
Daimler acknowledged last October that it had self-reported the issue to the authorities and applied for leniency.
A VW employee previously told the Financial Times that it had notified Brussels after it uncovered evidence of possible collusion in mid-2016, after a wide compliance sweep across the group following the diesel scandal.
BMW, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing—stating that there was nothing unusual in working with rivals on non-competitive technologies. The car maker added on Tuesday: “The company is wholeheartedly committed to the principles of market economics and fair competition.