A European Union Commission investigating potential antitrust violations on the part of Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche, and Volkswagen in regard to emissions technology and equipment has come to a decision and reached a settlement with BMW and Volkswagen who are to pay a total of 875,000,000 € in fines, a figure which translates to approximately $1,000,000,000. Volkswagen, which may be planning some form of responsive legal action, is to pay 502,000,000 €, while BMW is on the hook for 373,000,000 €. Daimler, which was also part of the cartel, was not fined after the company played a role in blowing the whistle. Both Daimler and Volkswagen sought a reduction in fines through leniency, but BMW did not, a decision explained in the following statement:
“The BMW Group made it clear from the start of the antitrust proceedings that it considered the allegations made at that time to be exaggerated and unjustified. For this reason, unlike the other competitors involved, the company did not prematurely admit its guilt by applying for leniency. Instead, after careful internal preparation and examination of the substance of the case, a comprehensive statement was submitted to the European Commission. As a result, the Commission dropped most of its original allegations against the BMW Group.”
The commission charges the German automakers with colluding to delay the introduction of emissions-reducing technology they had developed. Although the probe, which we reported on back in 2018, initially had a broad focus, looking into the potential use of emissions testing defeat devices and other specific emissions-reducing technologies, it eventually came to focus on the use of AdBlue diesel exhaust fluid. In 2019, a charge sheet from the commission stated that the automakers had colluded in regard to the design of AdBlue tanks between 2006 and 2014, in an effort to make the additive less convenient to use by consumers.
BMW has issued a response to news of the settlement breaking, noting that most of the initial allegations never came to fruition in the form of charges, and that most charges against the company have been dropped. More specifically, BMW has been cleared of any allegations regarding the use of emissions testing defeat devices, confirmed that discussions with other automakers, which took place roughly a decade ago, had no influence on production decisions, and that the company pursued its own approach in regard to the treatment of exhaust gasses.
In general terms, the commission also states that BMW and Volkswagen brands Audi and Porsche possessed technologies to reduce emissions more than European standards had called for, but purposefully avoided competing to introduce them, while Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, confirmed all automakers acknowledged their role in the wrongdoing and agreed to settle the proceedings.
Both BMW and Volkswagen also issued responses to the legal precedent set by the case. An excerpt from BMW’s press release follows:
“The European Commission acknowledges that the proceedings now concluded by settlement represent uncharted territory for antitrust law. Price and territorial agreements were not the subject of this investigation. The European Commission nevertheless used the standards generally applied to “classic” cartels of this kind to calculate the fine—with merely a certain reduction to reflect the unique nature of the case.”
Volkswagen said the following:
The case remains unrelated to Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, which has thus far resulted in over $38,000,000,000 in fines for the German automaker.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]