Commissioner Margrethe Vestager © Getty

Brussels has fined seven companies €546m in total for their participation in cartels related to spark plugs, braking systems and maritime transport of vehicles, the latest in the ongoing crackdown on the car parts sector that has generated nearly €6bn in EU fines.

Four companies — Chile’s CSAV, Japanese carriers “K”Line and NYK, and the Norwegian/Swedish carrier WWL-EUKOR — were fined a total of €395m for a cartel that fixed the bidding to maintain the traditional market share for the deep-sea transport of new cars, trucks and farming vehicles to and from Europe from October 2006 to September 2012. MOL avoided a fine of €203m by notifying officials about the cartel.

Car parts makers Bosch and NGK were fined a total of €76m for coordinating pricing of spark plugs between 2000 and 2011 to avoid competing. Denso avoided a fine of around €1m by notifying officials about the cartel.

A further €75m fine was assessed for two cartels related to pricing of braking systems. TRW, Bosch and Continental fixed pricing of hydraulic braking systems sold to Daimler and BMW between February 2007 to March 2011. TRW avoided a €54m fine for reporting the hydraulic braking cartel to regulators.

The second braking cartel involved Bosch and Continental supplying electronic braking systems to Volkswagen from September 2010 to July 2011. Continental avoided a €22m fine by blowing the whistle on the electronic braking cartel.

“The three separate decisions taken today show that we will not tolerate anticompetitive behaviour affecting European consumers and industries,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Before Wednesday’s decision, Brussels had uncovered nine cartels in the automotive (cars and trucks) sector resulting in fines of more than €6bn. That total included a record European cartel fine of €2.9bn to six European truckmakers for an alleged cartel from 1997 to 2011 to co-ordinate list prices and timing of the new emission-reducing technology for medium and heavy trucks.

The commissioner confirmed more investigations are under way into the car parts sector in addition to the “unrelated” ongoing investigation into the three big German carmakers.

EU antitrust officials raided BMW, VW and Daimler offices in October last year and Daimler acknowledged at that time that it had self-reported an issue to the authorities and applied for leniency. The raids followed a report in Der Spiegel in July that claimed BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi had held secret meetings since the 1990s to collude on certain technology.

Cartel cases often take years to complete and can result in fines of up to 10 per cent of global revenues of the product in question. Individual fines are based on sales, but also include factors to reflect the severity of the behaviour, the scope and duration of the alleged cartel and the company’s market share. Cartel members who choose to settle have their fines reduced based on when they applied for leniency and their level of co-operation with officials during the investigation.

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