The Commission found that the car giant had limited car sales by Mercedes-Benz agents and dealers in Germany and Spain to independent leasing companies if these companies had not yet found customers for the cars concerned.
As a result, Mercedes-Benz 'restricted the competition between its own leasing companies and independent leasing companies because the latter could not put cars on stock or benefit from rebates which are granted to all fleet owners,' said the EC.
Consequently, independent leasing companies were not able to pass on such favourable prices and the availability of cars to their clients. These actions contradict the terms of the car distribution block exemption that insists leasing companies should be treated in the same way as final customers - so long as lessees have no rights to purchase the leased vehicles before the end of the contract.
The EC also found Mercedes-Benz guilty of obstructing parallel trade by instructing its German dealers first not to sell cars outside their territories, and secondly to charge foreign customers a 15per cent deposit when ordering a car in Germany - a requirement not demanded of German customers. It also established a price fixing arrangement in Belgium by restricting new car supply to dealers that offered discounts in excess of 3per cent.
The EC's ruling casts huge uncertainty over the future of the car distribution block exemption that governs the relationship between car manufacturers and their dealers.
The Commission is reviewing the exemption, and has made it clear that it will take into account all cases of anti-competitive behaviour when deciding whether to renew or adapt the regulation. The fine imposed on DaimlerChrysler is the fourth time the EC has penalised manufacturers for block exemption abuses, following two decisions against Volkswagen AG, and one against Opel Netherlands.
Mario Monti, EC competition commissioner, said: 'Our investigation has shown once more that car manufacturers can largely control their distributors and punish those whose commercial behaviour they dislike.'
DaimlerChrysler will appeal against the EC's verdict, describing it as 'surprising' and arguing that 'Mercedes has for many years played a pioneering role in harmonising prices, thus contributing to European integration.'