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The European Commission on the alert against cartels

Three producers of car lightning systems were sanctioned yesterday (21 June) after breaching EU anti-trust rules. The companies, Automotive Lightning (Germany), Hella (Germany) and Valeo (France), colluded against consumers regarding price increases. They met at trade fairs, on the margins of supplier days organised by customers, during customer visits, but also independently of such events. The companies discussed quotes for tenders and negotiation strategies and exchanged information on the status of negotiations with customers.

According to the Commission, the companies agreed that they should aim for a price increase on spare parts after the end of mass production of specific car models, and coordinated how long after that they would end contractual availability of the spare parts in question.

Automotive Lighting and Hella were fined a total of €26 744 000 for participating in an automotive lighting cartel. Valeo was not fined as it revealed the cartel to the Commission. All companies admitted their involvement and agreed to settle.

Automotive Lighting and Hella benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation with the investigation. Valeo received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel, thereby avoiding a fine of more than €30,5 million.

The Commission’s investigation started already in January 2012 with an immunity application submitted by Valeo. Often investigations are instigated by disclosures by whistle-blowers but the Commission declined to comment if this was the case with Valeo.

“The Commission has sanctioned another cartel in the automotive sector,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy. “The decision underlines that we do not accept cartels that affect the European market.”

Yesterday’s decision concerning lighting systems is part of a series of major investigations into suspected cartels in the automotive parts sector. More investigations are ongoing, for instance concerning occupant safety systems.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times