The European Commission said on Tuesday (18 September) it had opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether BMW, Daimler and VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche) colluded, in breach of EU antitrust rules, to avoid competition on the development and roll-out of technology to clean the emissions of petrol and diesel passenger cars.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said in a statement: "The commission is investigating whether BMW, Daimler and VW agreed not to compete against each other on the development and roll-out of important systems to reduce harmful emissions from petrol and diesel passenger cars. These technologies aim at making passenger cars less damaging to the environment. If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers."

In October 2017, the commission carried out inspections at the premises of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi in Germany as part of its initial inquiries into possible collusion between car manufacturers on the technological development of passenger cars.

The investigation focuses on information indicating that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, also called the "circle of five", participated in meetings where they discussed the development and deployment of technologies to limit harmful car exhaust emissions.

In particular, the commission said it was assessing whether the companies colluded to limit the development and roll-out of emissions control systems for cars sold in the European Economic Area. These are selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems to reduce harmful nitrogen oxides emissions from passenger cars with diesel engines and Otto particulate filters (OPF) to reduce harmful particulate matter emissions from passenger cars with petrol engines.

The investigation aims to establish whether the conduct of BMW, Daimler and VW may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices, including agreements to limit or control technical development.

"At this stage, the commission has no indications that the parties coordinated with each other in relation to the use of illegal defeat devices to cheat regulatory testing," it said.

It added the investigation concerns solely the emissions control systems mentioned.

"These were only some of the issues discussed by the "circle of five"," the commission said.

"Numerous other technical topics were discussed, including common quality requirements for car parts, common quality testing procedures or exchanges concerning their own car models that were already on the market. The "circle of five" also had discussions on the maximum speed at which the roofs of convertible cars can open or close, and at which the cruise control will work. Cooperation also extended to the area of crash tests and crash test dummies where the car companies pooled technical expertise and development efforts to improve testing procedures for car safety.

"At this stage the commission does not have sufficient indications that these discussions between the "circle of five" constituted anti-competitive conduct that would merit further investigation."