The European Commission (the Commission) confirmed in a press release that its officials carried out inspections at the premises of car manufacturers in Germany on 23 October 2017. These inspections are related to concerns that several German car manufacturers may have violated the EU cartel prohibition. These inspections are a follow-up to the (unannounced) inspections carried out in the week of the 20th of October.
The EU cartel prohibition prohibits, among others, the fixing of prices. According to reports in the press, the inspections were carried out because the Commission suspects the carmakers made price agreements. However, these inspections do not have as a consequence that the inspected companies are already found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour.
The inspections do not come as a surprise, since the Commission had announced in July of this year that it would investigate allegations of a cartel between a group of German carmakers.
Recent inspections and press releases from the Commission show that the automotive sector is under close scrutiny of the Commission and national competition authorities. In the last five years, the Commission has fined suppliers of wire harnesses in cars (2013), automotive bearings (2014), flexible foam used in car seats (2014), parking heaters in trucks and cars (2015), alternators and starters (2016), truck producers for price fixing (2016), car lighting systems (2017) and car air conditioning and engine cooling systems (link) (2017). The German, Belgian and Dutch competition authorities have also imposed fines on importers of batteries for forklift-trucks (in 2016-2017) (link).
In short, the automotive sector is, and will most likely remain, a focus point of the EU and national competition authorities’ attention.