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EU fines German carmakers over alleged cartel activities

July 8, 2021

The European Commission has said BMW and Volkswagen colluded on limiting the roll-out of emissions-cutting technology and fined the carmakers €875 million.

A tailpipe with a VW logo
The Commission said German carmakers colluded on developing so-called 'Adblue' tanksImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stratenschulte

The European Commission on Thursday said major German carmakers breached EU antitrust rules by restricting competition on clean emissions for new diesel cars.

The Commission fined BMW and Volkswagen (VW) Group €875 million ($1 billion).

The EU's antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, "possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emission standards," and colluded to limit use of that technology.

The VW Group, which owns Audi and Porsche, must pay close to €500 million, and BMW will pay close to €375 million.

Vestager added that by avoiding competition on the technology, consumers were denied the opportunity to buy less polluting cars.

"Today's decision is about how legitimate technical cooperation went wrong," Vestager said.

With an annual turnover of around €223 billion, the fine "won't hurt VW financially," said DW Brussels correspondent Jack Parrock. However, the move is "significant ... for the EU being seen to be taking companies to task."

Daimler was not fined, as it revealed the collusion to the Commission, and cooperated with an investigation.

What technology did the carmakers collude on?

The penalties are connected to holding back development of technology known as Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) , which adds "AdBlue" or urea into an exhaust gas stream to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

In April 2019, the carmakers were informed the Commission was investigating what it called a "collusive scheme" on limiting the technology from 2006 to 2014 in violation of EU anti-trust rules.

"Companies can cooperate in many ways to improve the quality of their products. However, EU competition rules do not allow them to collude on exactly the opposite: not to improve their products, not to compete on quality," said Vestager in a 2019 statement.

Electromobility: A question of time and cost

wmr/rt (dpa,AFP, Reuters, AP)