Commissioner Vestager on car cartels: “We aren’t done yet”
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    Commissioner Vestager on car cartels: “We aren’t done yet”

    In three separate decisions this week, the European Commission find seven companies a total of 546 million euros for taking part in different cartels relating to cars and car parts, in breach of EU antitrust laws. All investigations started with an immunity application by one of the companies concerned. All companies acknowledged their participation in these cartels and agreed to settle the cases. Three companies involved in the cartels escaped a fine, because they revealed the existence of the cartels to the Commission.

    “We will not tolerate anticompetitive behavior affecting European consumers and industries,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

    She added that the Commission has already imposed fines of over six billion euros in ten cases involving the car and truck markets. “We are approaching the end but we have still on-going investigations. We aren’t done yet.”

    In 2016, almost ten million vehicles were transported between Europe and other continents on specialised large ships – known as roll-on/roll-off ships. That includes nearly three and a half million imported cars, and nearly six and a half million exported cars.

    The biggest cartel was about the transport of new cars, trucks and other large vehicles by sea and involved a total fine of €395 million.

    Five companies participated in the cartel: Chilean carrier CSAV, Japanese carriers “K” Line, MOL, NYK and the Norwegian/Swedish carrier WWL-EUKOR. Between them, they transported almost half of those ten million vehicles. MOL avoided a fine because of its disclosure of the cartel.

    The Commission writes that for almost six years, between October 2006 and September 2012, sales managers from these companies met at each other’s offices, in bars, restaurants and other social gatherings. They were also in contact over the phone on a regular basis.

    In those discussions, the five companies coordinated prices, divided up customers between them and exchanged commercially sensitive information that could help them align their prices.

    Instead of competing, they gave each other a free hand on certain routes or with certain customers, by deliberately quoting high prices or not quoting at all in tenders by carmakers.

    A spokesperson for the Commission told The Brussels Times that the majority of cartels sanctioned by the Commission are detected through its leniency program.

    “It is our system for encouraging companies that participate in cartels to reveal their existence to the Commission, and to provide enough evidence for the Commission to investigate them.”

    Companies receive immunity from fines in return for being the first to denounce other cartel members and reduced fines for cooperating with the Commission by providing important evidence.

    The investigation of the maritime car carriers cartel started in 2012. The duration of cartel cases depends on a number of factors such as the complexity of the investigated facts, the size of the file as well as the number of cases in the same sector.

    M. Apelblat
    The Brussels Times