The European Commission announced today it has opened an in-depth investigation on the diesel emissions-related violations alleged to have been committed by BMW, Daimler and VW (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche).
The scandal that has been making headlines around the world is revealing the firms may have colluded, in breach of EU antitrust rules, to hinder the development of technologies to reduce harmful emissions.
Antitrust: Commission opens formal investigation into possible collusion between BMW, Daimler and the VW group on clean emission technology https://t.co/g4uIoprVympic.twitter.com/kyLyuEH0TJ— European Commission ?? (@EU_Commission) September 18, 2018
An alleged dubious agreement
"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," said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
Investigations at the premises of BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and Audi in Germany were already conducted by the organization in October of last year. The probes were part of the commission's initial inquiries into this alleged possible collusion and were described as a "preliminary step" into the carmakers' possible anti-competitive practices.
BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche, now dubbed the "circle of five", are suspected of having held meetings where they discussed inter alia emissions-limiting technologies targeting, in particular, the hindrance of the development of two types of systems.
Nitrogen oxide-reducing selective catalytic reduction ('SCR') systems for diesel engines and particulate matter reduction 'Otto' particulate filters ('OPF') systems for petrol engines are believed to have been the circle's main focus. Now, the commission will seek to determine whether European antitrust rules pertaining to Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union were broken.
Article 101 violations?
The article "prohibits agreements and concerted practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition." However, the European body also stated that for the time being there is not enough evidence to deduce that the regulation had been violated.
"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.
EU antitrust rules leave room for technical cooperation aimed at improving product quality. The Commission's in-depth investigation, in this case, concerns specific cooperation that is suspected to have aimed at limiting the technical development or preventing the roll-out of technical devices," read the body's statement.
The scandal, dubbed dieselgate, has been ongoing since 2015 when VW first admitted to the use of defeat device software aimed at diesel engine emissions tests cheating. Since then the saga has seen many executives fired and some even arrested.