The European Union Commission has charged BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen after a preliminary investigation has found they colluded to prevent or limit the introduction of better vehicle emissions technology.
The charges come after whistleblower Daimler went to the EUC with information regarding emissions conspiracy between the big three German makers, which had been ongoing for nearly a decade.
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Named the “circle of five”, BMW, Daimler, VW, and its companies Audi and Porsche, allegedly conducted group “technical meetings” in the 1990s, which led to the collaboration to restrict or block the introduction of better, and more costly, diesel and petrol emissions technology from 2006-2014, the EU claims in its investigation.
Information of the meetings leaked to the commission by Daimler, which has also been charged, eventuated in dawn raids at the head offices of all parties involved in July 2017. The antitrust regulator says it opened a formal investigation in September 2018.
Specifically, it alleges that selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) which remove poisonous nitrogen oxides from diesel emissions and “Otto” petrol particulate filters were delayed from introduction to European consumers. It is unrelated to the diesel scandal that rocked VW four years ago.
“Companies can cooperate in many ways to improve the quality of their products. However, EU competition rules do not allow them to collude on exactly the opposite: not to improve their products, not to compete on quality,” said European Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager.
“Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology.”
The manufacturers have been given 10 weeks to respond, with potential fines of up to 10 percent of global revenue possible. BMW says it will contest charges “with all legal means if necessary,” and VW is yet to make official comment, confirming only that it has received notice from the antitrust regulator. Daimler, which tipped off the EUC, says it does not believe it will be fined.
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All manufacturers must respond to the EUC within 10 weeks. In 2014, a group of six truck manufacturers, including Daimler, was found guilty in a similar case, with fines of $3 billion euros issued.
However, executive director of the European Federation of Transport and Environment, William Todts, says issuing fines is simply not good enough.
“It would be indefensible if the German car industry colluded to fit useless emissions controls, as the allegations indicate. That would mean Europeans were breathing poisonous air that should have been avoided. The EU must fine colluding companies but it mustn’t stop there. We need to clean up the 43 million dirty diesel that are on , our streets today,” he said.