The European Commission (EC) said it had found multiple German car makers breached EU antitrust rules by colluding on technical development in the area of nitrogen oxide cleaning.

“The commission has imposed a fine of EUR875,189,000,” the EC said in a statement.

“Daimler was not fined, as it revealed the existence of the cartel to the commission. All parties acknowledged their involvement in the cartel and agreed to settle the case.”

Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The five car manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emission standards. But they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law.

“So today’s decision is about how legitimate technical cooperation went wrong. And we do not tolerate it when companies collude. It is illegal under EU Antitrust rules. Competition and innovation on managing car pollution are essential for Europe to meet our ambitious Green Deal objectives. And this decision shows that we will not hesitate to take action against all forms of cartel conduct putting in jeopardy this goal.”

According to the EC, the automakers held regular technical meetings to discuss the development of the selective catalytic reduction (SCR)-technology which eliminates harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx)-emissions from diesel passenger cars through the injection of urea (AdBlue) into the exhaust gas stream. During these meetings, and for over five years, the car manufacturers colluded to avoid competition on cleaning better than what is required by law despite the relevant technology being available.

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Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen group reached an agreement on AdBlue tank sizes and ranges and a common understanding on the average estimated AdBlue-consumption. They also exchanged commercially sensitive information on these elements. They thereby removed the uncertainty about their future market conduct concerning NOx-emissions cleaning beyond and above the legal requirements (so called “over-fulfilment”) and AdBlue-refill ranges, the EC said.

“This means that they restricted competition on product characteristics relevant for the customers.”

The conduct took place between 25 June 2009 and 1 October 2014.

In setting the level of fines, the commission took into account the value of the parties’ sales of diesel passenger cars equipped with SCR-systems in the EEA in 2013 (the last full year of infringement), the gravity of the infringement and the geographic scope.

An additional reduction was applied for all parties given that this is the first cartel prohibition decision based solely on a restriction of technical development and not on price fixing, market sharing or customer allocation.

Daimler received full immunity, thereby avoiding an aggregate fine of EUR727m.

Volkswagen group benefited from a reduction of the fine under a leniency provision. The reduction reflects the timing of the cooperation and the extent to which the evidence VW group provided helped the commission to prove the existence of the cartel.

In addition, the commission applied a reduction of 10% of the fines of all parties under the 2008 Settlement Notice in view of the acknowledgment of their participation in the cartel and of their liability in this infringement.