One of the lead lawyers in the claims being made by British drivers against Volkswagen over the use of software in their cars to cheat emissions tests, has welcomed the announcement that the European Union's competition watchdog is investigating potential collusion between car manufacturers.

Chris Haan from law firm Leigh Day said that if proven the companies could face fines of up to 10% of the overall annual turnover of the company.

The EU Commission said it had received information that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and VW units Audi and Porsche had held meetings to discuss clean technologies aimed at limiting car exhaust emissions.

The probe focuses on whether the manufacturers agreed not to compete against each other in developing and introducing technology to restrict pollution from petrol and diesel passenger cars.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said:

"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."

Chris Haan from law firm Leigh Day and one of the lead solicitors in the current group claim against Volkswagen, said:

“Air pollution is the single largest environmental risk to human health in Europe, causing respiratory problems and shortening lifespans (EEA, 2017).

“Transport is the biggest source of air pollution. If the commission concludes that in addition to cheating emissions tests VW also colluded to hold back technology that could have prevented pollution related disease, then the manufacturer should be held to account not only to the owners of Volkswagen cars, but also to the million people whose health has been affected.

“It’s important to remember that this is just an investigation, and nothing has been proven yet, but if the Commission does find that the manufacturers breached competition law they could face fines up to 10% of the overall annual turnover of the company.”

In July 2016, the Commission fined five truck manufacturers nearly €3 billion for colluding for 14 years on truck pricing and on passing on the costs of compliance with stricter emission rules.