The European Commission has imposed fines totalling EUR1,383,896,000 on car glass manufacturers Asahi, UK-based Pilkington, Saint-Gobain and Soliver for illegal market sharing, and exchange of commercially sensitive information.

Asahi, Pilkington and Saint-Gobain are the three major players in Europe. Between early 1998 and early 2003 the companies discussed target prices, market sharing and customer allocation in a series of meetings and other illicit contacts, which is against the commission’s ban on cartels and restrictive business practices. The Belgian company Soliver also took part in some of the discussions.

The four companies controlled about 90% of the glass used in Europe in new cars and for original branded replacement glass for cars at that time, a market worth about EUR2bn in the last full year of the infringement.

The commission started the cartel investigation on its own initiative following a tip-off from an anonymous source.

The fines imposed are the highest cartel fines the EC has ever imposed, both for an individual company – EUR896m on Saint Gobain – and for a cartel as a whole. The EC increased the fine on St Gobain by 60% because it was a repeat offender. Asahi provided additional information to help expose the infringement and its fine was reduced by 50% to EUR113.5m. Pilkington was fined EUR370m and Soliver EUR4.396m

Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “These companies cheated the car industry and car buyers for five years in a market worth EUR2bn in the last year of the cartel. The overall fines are high because of the large market, the seriousness of the case, and Saint-Gobain’s earlier offences.

“The commission has imposed such high fines because it cannot and will not tolerate such illegal behaviour. Management and shareholders of companies that damage consumers and European industry by running cartels must learn their lessons the hard way – if you cheat, you will get a heavy fine.”