In 2017, the European Union's antitrust regulators headed to the offices of BMW, Daimler and members of the Volkswagen Group to investigate allegations that the automakers colluded against improving their vehicles' emissions.
The European Commission on Friday announced that it sent a Statement of Objections to BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen for allegedly colluding to restrict competition and artificially delay the development of emission-reducing car technology.
"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 Margrethe Vestager, member of the European Commission in charge of competition policy, in a statement. "We are concerned that this is what happened in this case and that Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology."
According to the Commission's press release, the group is concerned that collusion occurred with regards to two different emissions-reductions systems. On the diesel side, the group alleges that the automakers "coordinated their AdBlue dosing strategies, AdBlue tank size and refill ranges between 2006 and 2014 with the common understanding that they thereby limited AdBlue-consumption and exhaust gas cleaning effectiveness."
Gas-powered cars didn't escape the conversation, either. While selective catalytic reduction (urea/AdBlue injection) doesn't exist for gas engines, there are particulate filters that can help reduce tailpipe emissions. In this case, the Commission believes that "BMW, Daimler and VW coordinated to avoid, or at least to delay, the introduction of ['Otto' particulate filters] in their new (direct injection) petrol passenger car models between 2009 and 2014, and to remove uncertainty about their future market conduct."
In an emailed statement, a Daimler spokesperson said that the automaker is cooperating with the European Commission and would not comment further on this ongoing case. Volkswagen said it will continue to cooperate with the Commission, as well. BMW did not immediately return Roadshow's requests for comment.
The Commission noted in its release that, while this doesn't rise to the level of price fixing, it's still a potential violation of EU competition guidelines. That said, this Statement of Objections isn't a binding determination of any kind -- automakers will still get to present their cases to the Commission -- but if fines are levied, they could amount to 10 percent of the automakers' global revenue, totaling billions of dollars.