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BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen Formally Accused of Years-Long Emissions Collusion by EU

If found guilty, the automakers could be slapped with billions of dollars in fines.

The European Commission has officially notified BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen of its preliminary view that the three automakers have violated European antitrust laws by colluding to stymie the progression of diesel emissions devices.

According to the commission, the trio specifically worked together in order to restrict the emissions-related components of both gasoline and diesel-powered automobiles from 2006 to 2014. The companies allegedly developed a complex framework for the vehicles during technical meetings dubbed the “circle of five.”

The two main components which the commission’s complaints surround are the development of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems and Otto Particle Filters (OPF).

SCR systems are used to inject urea into the exhaust stream of diesel vehicles in order to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. According to the complaint, the automakers colluded to specifically coordinate their AdBlue dosing strategies, tank size, and refill ranges, all of which contributed to limited effectiveness.

OPFs, known more commonly as “Gasoline Particle Filters,” are specifically designed to reduce the emissions in petrol-powered vehicles which use direct injection fuel systems. The filters use a similar honeycomb-like structure found in catalytic converters but typically sit further down-stream in the exhaust system. The European Commission believes that BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen colluded to delay the introduction of these filters into their vehicles from 2009 to 2014.

“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 Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, head of the competition policy. “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. The three car manufacturers now have the opportunity to respond to our findings.”

The commission originally announced its suspicion of the cartel-like collusion in mid-2017 and was strengthened in 2018 when it launched a probe into the conduct of the automakers. The companies will now be permitted to review the EU’s findings and respond appropriately before any sanctions are enacted by the regulatory body. Should the manufacturers be found guilty, they could receive fines of up to 10 percent of their respective annual revenues.