Several major carmakers have been raided on the suspicion of anti-competitive conduct in relation to the recycling of old or written-off vehicles, specifically cars and vans.
The joint operation, involving the European Commission and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) conducted unannounced inspections at the unnamed businesses, yesterday (Tuesday, March 15).
The EC has concerns that several companies and associations may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
In the UK, the CMA is investigating suspected infringements of Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998 (‘CA98’) involving a number of vehicle manufacturers and some industry bodies.
The CMA stressed that “no assumption” should be made at this stage that the CA98 has been infringed.
“The CMA has not reached a view as to whether there is sufficient evidence of an infringement of competition law for it to issue a statement of objections to any of the parties under investigation,” it said. “Not all cases result in the CMA issuing a statement of objections.”
The inspections and requests for information concern possible collusion in relation to the collection, treatment and recovery of end-of-life cars and vans which are considered waste.
Unannounced inspections and requests for information are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anticompetitive practices.
EC officials said that there is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct.
“Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies and associations concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence,” it said.
Renault confirmed to Reuters that it was visited by European Commission investigators and that it was cooperating fully.
Stellantis brand Opel also revealed its offices had been searched by investigators.
"The subject of investigation is the area of recycling end-of-life vehicles," Opel said in a statement. "Of course, we cooperate fully with the authorities."
German carmaker BMW said it had received a request for information and would respond.
Meanwhile, Mercedes Benz said it did not expect to be fined because it had approached the EU regulator and the CMA with information as a "leniency applicant".
Ford said in a statement that it had been served with a notice by CMA "relating to the recycling of old or written-off vehicles, specifically cars and vans, also known as end-of-life vehicles".
"Given the situation is ongoing it would be inappropriate for us to say more at this stage except to state that we will fully cooperate with the CMA's review," the carmaker said.
Volkswagen and its premium brand Audi both declined to comment.
Companies found breaching EU cartel rules face fines up to 10% of their global turnover.
The Commission has in the past decade issued fines totalling about €2.2 billion (£1.85bn) against car parts cartels dealing in products ranging from brakes to wire harnesses, seat belts and air bags.