Commission fines parking heaters producer €68 million in cartel settlement

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The FINANCIAL — The European Commission found that two German producers of automotive parts, Eberspächer and Webasto, have breached EU antitrust rules prohibiting cartels and restrictive business practices.

They coordinated prices and allocated customers with regards to fuel-operated parking heaters (which heat parked cars or trucks) and auxiliary heaters (which support the heating system of a running car or truck). The Commission imposed a fine of € 68 175 000 on Eberspächer for its involvement in the cartel. This fine was reduced under the Commission’s leniency programme to reflect Eberspächer’s cooperation with the investigation. Webasto was not fined because it benefited from immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission. Both companies agreed to settle the case with the Commission, so that Eberspächer’s fine was reduced by a further 10%, according to the European Commission.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy said: “For over ten years, the only two suppliers of parking heaters in Europe colluded to avoid competing with each other. This cosy arrangement adversely affected a major part of the European automotive industry and ultimately those who buy cars and trucks. Today’s decision is a clear signal to companies colluding – or thinking about it – that a cartel will be found out, no matter how few the participants.”

The Commission’s investigation started with an unannounced inspection at Eberspächer’s premises in July 2013. It showed that over a period of 10 years, from September 2001 until September 2011, Webasto and Eberspächer coordinated prices and allocated customers in the entire European Economic Area (EEA). When the companies received requests for price quotations from car or truck manufacturers, they discussed various price elements, agreed which of the two would submit the winning lower bid, and exchanged other commercially sensitive information. The two companies also colluded when selling to dealers in Germany and Austria, for example by harmonising their annual price lists and the discounts they would give to these dealers.

In setting the level of fines, the Commission took into account the companies’ sales of the products concerned in the EEA, the serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration.

Webasto received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel and thereby avoided a fine of € 222 247 000 for its participation in the infringement. Eberspächer benefited from reductions of its fine under the 2006 Leniency Notice for its cooperation. The reduction reflects the timing of its cooperation and the extent to which the evidence it provided helped the Commission to prove the existence of the cartel. Eberspächer’s fine was reduced by a further 10%, as it agreed to settle the case with the Commission.

 

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