The European Commission has fined Autoliv and TRW a total of € 368 277 000 for breaching EU antitrust rules. Takata was not fined as it revealed the cartels to the Commission.
The companies took part in two cartels for the supply of car seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels to European car producers. All three suppliers acknowledged their involvement in the cartels and agreed to settle the case.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said:“This is the second time we fine car safety equipment suppliers for participating in a cartel. Components such as seatbelts and airbags are essential for the safety of the millions of people that use their car to drive to work or take their children to school every day. The three suppliers colluded to increase their profits from the sale of these life-saving components. These cartels ultimately hurt European consumers and adversely impacted the competitiveness of the European automotive sector, which employs around 13 million people in the EU.”
The three car equipment suppliers addressed in this decision exchanged commercially sensitive information and coordinated their market behaviour for the supply of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels to the Volkswagen Group and the BMW Group. The coordination to form and run the cartel took place mainly through meetings at the suppliers’ business premises but also in restaurants and hotels, as well as through phone calls and e-mail exchanges.
The cartel is likely to have had a significant effect on European customers, since the customers affected by the cartel, the Volkswagen Group and the BMW Group sell around three of every ten cars bought in Europe. The Commission’s investigation revealed the existence of two separate infringements. The following table details the participation and the duration of each company’s involvement in each of the two infringements:
||Sales of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels to Volkswagen Group||4/01/2007||28/03/2011 – TRW
30/03/2011 – Autoliv, Takata
||Sales of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels to BMW Group||28/02/2008 – Autoliv, Takata
5/06/2008 – TRW
|16/09/2010 – Autoliv
17/02/2011 – Takata, TRW
The fines were set on the basis of the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines on fines.
In setting the level of fines, the Commission took into account, in particular, the sales value in the EEA achieved by the cartel participants for the products in question, the serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration.
Under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice:
- Takata received full immunity for revealing the two cartels (thereby avoiding an aggregate fine of ca. € 195 million).
- Autoliv and TRW benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation with the Commission investigation. The reductions reflect the timing of their cooperation and the extent to which the evidence they provided helped the Commission to prove the existence of the cartels in which they were involved.
In addition, under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission applied a reduction of 10% to the fines imposed on the companies in view of their acknowledgment of the participation in the cartel and of the liability in this respect.
The breakdown of the fines imposed on each company is as follows:
|Supplier (group)||Reduction under Leniency Notice||Reduction under Settlement Notice||Fine (€)|
158 824 000
121 211 000
30 067 000
58 175 000
Automotive occupant safety systems cover products such as seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels that are supplied to car manufacturers. These systems provide protection against injury in the event of a crash for those inside and outside the vehicle.
Today’s decision is part of a series of major investigations into cartels in the automotive parts sector. In particular, the Commission has already fined Autoliv and Takata for participating in one or more of four cartels concerning the supply of occupant safety systems to certain Japanese car manufacturersand TRW for the provision of Hydraulic Braking Systems (HBS) to Daimler and BMW.
The Commission has also fined suppliers of automotive bearings, wire harnesses in cars , flexible foam used (inter alia) in car seats, parking heaters in cars and trucks, alternators and starters, air conditioning and engine cooling systems, lighting systems, spark plugs and braking systems. Today’s decision brings the total amount of Commission fines for cartels in this sector to €2.15 billion.
Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.
The Commission’s investigation in this case started with an application under the Commission Leniency Notice.
Fines imposed on companies found in breach of EU antitrust rules are paid into the general EU budget. This money is not earmarked for particular expenses, but Member States’ contributions to the EU budget for the following year are reduced accordingly. The fines therefore help to finance the EU and reduce the burden for taxpayers.
More information on this case will be available under the case number AT.40481 in the public case register on the Commission’s competition website, once confidentiality issues have been dealt with. For more information on the Commission’s action against cartels, see its cartels website.
The settlement procedure
Today’s decision is the 29th settlement since the introduction of this procedure for cartels in June 2008. In a settlement, parties acknowledge their participation in a cartel and their liability for it. Settlements are based on the Antitrust Regulation 1/2003 and allow the Commission to apply a simplified and shortened procedure. This benefits consumers and taxpayers as it reduces costs. It also benefits antitrust enforcement as it frees up resources to tackle other suspected cartels. Finally, the parties themselves benefit in terms of quicker decisions and a 10% reduction in fines.
Action for damages
Any person or company affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages. The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision constitutes binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the cartel participants concerned, damages may be awarded without being reduced on account of the Commission fine.
The Antitrust Damages Directive, which Member States had to transpose into their legal systems by 27 December 2016, makes it easier for victims of anti-competitive practices to obtain damages.