EU Commission: 875 million cartel fine for BMW and VW

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They are alleged to have colluded illegally on a technology for exhaust gas purification: The EU Commission has ordered German carmakers BMW and Volkswagen to pay millions in fines for forming a cartel.

The EU Commission has imposed competition fines in the millions on the two German carmakers BMW and Volkswagen. They are alleged to have made illegal agreements on the size of tanks for the fuel additive “AdBlue”. This restricted competition in exhaust gas purification, the EU Commission said. “Adblue” tanks hold special urea solutions in diesel cars of newer catalytic converter generations.

The mixtures ensure more efficient exhaust gas cleaning and thus a reduction in harmful nitrogen oxide emissions. “All companies have admitted their participation in the cartel and agreed to a settlement,” the EU Commission announced.

Mutual agreements reached over years

According to the EU Commission, the carmakers allegedly agreed at specialist meetings between 2009 and 2014 not to fall below the legal requirements for exhaust gas purification, so as not to compete with each other. For example, the companies agreed on the size of the AdBlue tanks. In this way, the companies would have restricted “competition for product features that are relevant for customers”.

The carmakers BMW, VW, Daimler, Porsche and Audi had the necessary technology at their disposal to reduce “harmful emissions beyond the requirements of the EU emissions standards,” criticized Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for competition policy.

However, she said, with the help of the reciprocal agreements, the companies had “avoided competing to use the full potential of this technology to clean up better than the law requires. “Vestager stressed that “competition and innovation” were crucial building blocks for implementing the climate targets set by the EU in the form of the so-called Green Deal. With the penalties now imposed, she said, the EU is making it clear “that we will take decisive action against all forms of antitrust violations that jeopardize this goal.”

Daimler also involved, but remains unpunished

BMW is to pay just under 375 million euros, Volkswagen a good 500 million euros. The potential penalty is thus not fully exhausted. Theoretically, payments of up to ten percent of annual sales may be due.
BMW had already held out the prospect of agreeing to a settlement in advance. In 2019, the manufacturer formed a provision of 1.4 billion euros as a result of the allegations. However, around one billion euros of this amount had already been reversed in May of this year, because the Commission had completely dropped certain accusations against BMW.

Daimler was also involved in the collusion, but as the third party in the group it does not have to pay anything because the Stuttgart-based company was the first to make itself available as a key witness – otherwise 727 million euros would have been due.

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