The European Commission has fined Autoliv and TRW, both suppliers of automotive safety equipment, a total of €368 million (U.S. 416 million) for breaching EU antitrust rules. For revealing the cartel activity to the Commission, Takata was not fined.
All three suppliers took part in two cartels for the supply of car seatbelts, airbags, and steering wheels to European car producers. All three also acknowledged their involvement in the cartels and agreed to a settlement.
Specifically, Autoliv, TRW, and Takata exchanged commercially sensitive information and coordinated their market behavior for the supply of seatbelts, airbags, and steering wheels to the Volkswagen Group and the BMW Group, according to the Commission. The coordination to form and run the cartel took place mainly through meetings at the suppliers’ business premises, as well as in restaurants and hotels and through phone calls and e-mail exchanges.
In a statement, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, noted that the settlement marks the second time that the Commission has fined a car safety equipment supplier for participating in cartel activity. In November 2017, the Commission fined Autoliv and Takata (among other suppliers) €34 million (U.S. $38 million) for participating in at least one of four cartels concerning the supply of occupant safety systems to certain Japanese car manufacturers.
In February 2018, TRW separately was found to have engaged in cartel activity for the provision of Hydraulic Braking Systems (HBS) to Daimler and BMW. TRW received full immunity, however, for revealing the HBS cartel, thereby avoiding a fine of €54 million (U.S. $61 million).
The fines announced on 5 March 2019 against Autoliv and TRW were set on the basis of the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines on fines. Specifically, in setting the level of fines, the Commission said it considered the sales value in the European Economic Area 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 €195 million ($220 million). Regarding Autoliv and TRW, both benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation with the 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,” the Commission stated.
In addition, under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission applied a reduction of 10 percent 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.
In a statement, Autoliv said it received a fine of €179 million (U.S. $203 million). “The fine is less than the accrual of $210 million made by Autoliv in the fourth quarter of 2018,” the company stated.
The Commission’s decision reached this month is part of a series of major investigations into cartels in the automotive parts sector. The Commission has also fined suppliers of automotive bearings, wire harnesses in cars , flexible foam used 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. The total amount of Commission fines for cartel activity in this sector, to date, is €2.15 billion (U.S. $2.42 billion).