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European Commission investigates emission technology collusion between BMW, Daimler and the VW group

18 September 2018

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether BMW, Daimler and VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche) colluded, in breach of EU antitrust rules, to avoid competition on the development and roll-out of technology to clean the emissions of petrol and diesel passenger cars—including diesel SCR systems and gasoline particulate filters (GPF).

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The Commission is investigating whether BMW, Daimler and VW agreed not to compete against each other on the development and roll-out of important systems to reduce harmful emissions from petrol and diesel passenger cars. These technologies aim at making passenger cars less damaging to the environment. If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers.”

In October 2017, the Commission carried out inspections at the premises of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi in Germany as part of its initial inquiries into possible collusion between car manufacturers on the technological development of passenger cars. The Commission’s in-depth investigation focuses on information indicating that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche—called the “circle of five”—participated in meetings where they discussed inter alia the development and deployment of technologies to limit harmful car exhaust emissions.

In particular, the Commission is assessing whether the companies colluded to limit the development and roll-out of certain emissions control systems for cars sold in the European Economic Area, namely:

The Commission said that at this stage it has no indications that the parties coordinated with each other in relation to the use of illegal defeat devices to cheat regulatory testing.

The Commission also noted that its investigation concerns solely the emission control systems identified above. These were only some of the issues discussed by the “circle of five”. Numerous other technical topics were discussed, including common quality requirements for car parts, common quality testing procedures or exchanges concerning their own car models that were already on the market. The “circle of five” also had discussions on the maximum speed at which the roofs of convertible cars can open or close, and at which the cruise control will work. Cooperation also extended to the area of crash tests and crash test dummies where the car companies pooled technical expertise and development efforts to improve testing procedures for car safety. At this stage the Commission does not have sufficient indications that these discussions constituted anti-competitive conduct that would merit further investigation.

Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union prohibits agreements and concerted practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition.

Source: European Commission