China's anti-monopoly authority NDRC has imposed hefty fines against German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) and US auto group Chrysler. It has found them guilty of colluding to fix excessive prices for cars and parts.
A competition-enforcement unit of China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced Thursday that a joint venture between the country's FAW Auto group and Germany's Volkswagen (VW) would be fined 250 million yuan (31 million euros).
Since 2012, the joint venture had caused ten Volkswagen dealers in the province of Hubei to fix prices for cars and repair services of its premium Audi subsidiary, NDRC said in a statement.
The move "deprived downstream operators of pricing rights, inflated sales prices for the cars and auto parts, eliminated and restricted the normal competitive order of the car and spare parts markets, and damaged the rights and interests of consumers", it said.
In addition to the VW penalty, eight FAW-VW dealers were fined a total of 30 million yuan, the chinese anti-monopoly watchdog also said.
Separately, China's official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday that Chrysler (China) Automobile Sales would have to pay a 31.7 million yuan antitrust fine for requiring dealers to maintain prices recommended by the manufacturer from 2012 to 2014. Moreover, three of the company's dealerships in Shanghai would be slapped with antitrust fines totalling 2.14 million yuan for agreeing to set unified prices for car repair, spare parts and paint jobs for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles, Xinhua said.
NDRC launched its investigation into Audi in August as part of a wider crackdown on alleged price manipulations by foreign businesses in China. Probes are also underway into Germany's luxury brand Mercedes, which is part of Daimler. Last month, Beijing already fined 12 Japanese car parts suppliers a total of 1.24 billion yuan for manipulating prices, including Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric and Sumitomo.
Regulators defend probes
In recent weeks, a number of international business lobby groups have criticized NDRC and its sister organization, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), for allegedly "targeting Western firms" in their drive.
Just on Wednesday, the US Federal Trade Commission said it was seriously concerned about the country's enforcement policy, which the FTC claimed was aimed at serving China's industrial policy agenda rather than protecting competition to the benefit of consumer welfare.
In a rare joint press conference Thursday, NDRC and SAIC offcials launched a vigorous defense of their investigations.
Xu Kunlin, NDRC Director General said the cases were being "processed according to the law, and are transparent." In addition, SAIC Director General Ren Airong defended a probe into Microsoft, saying that "many firms" had complained about the US software maker's "monopoly practices" in China.
In a joint statement issued by the regulators at the news conference, they said they were mindful of the companies' "lawful rights" and that they would "ensure an objective and fair anti-monopoly result."
Uhe/nz (Reuters, dpa, AFP)