Officials in Europe Probe German Car Cartel Claims

On Saturday, officials in Europe that govern antitrust confirmed they are currently investigating claims that Germany’s major carmakers might have operated a cartel dating back as far as the 1990s, colluding on things from engine and vehicle development, to diesel emissions systems and suppliers.

The Bundeskartellamt, the equivalent to the German cartel office, and the European Commission received information related to the matter, which is being assessed currently by the EC, said the commission on Saturday in a prepared statement.

The automotive industry represents approximately 20% of the overall industry revenue and employs over 800,000 people in Germany.

The commission is the European Union’s top antitrust agency and responsible for working with authorities in the different countries as a way to ensure business plays on a level and fair playing field across the European market, which includes 500 million people.

The commission can fine companies and force them to make changes to how they carry out their business. News of this probe came to light after a new magazine in Germany called Der Spiegel reported that hundreds of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW executives had participated in 60 different working groups in the industry.

The motives for those meetings, reported the magazine was to help suspend competition. The magazine cited a letter it claims Volkswagen sent to antitrust officials in Germany last summer in which it admitted to possible anti-competitive actions.

Volkswagen would not comment late this week on the matter. Its CEO Matthias Mueller has been quoted by a newspaper in the country on Saturday as saying the automaker would not make comments on conjecture and speculation.

Shares in the industry slumped on Friday following the news, but recovered slightly ending the day down 2% to 3%.

The automobile industry contains to struggle in its attempt to repair the damage to its overall reputation that was caused by the admission two years ago by Volkswagen that it had cheated on tests for diesel emissions.

Last week Daimler announced it was recalling voluntarily over 3 million of his Mercedes Benz vehicles across Europe amidst growing questions over the company’s diesel engines. It has offered its owners across Europe a service upgrade that will reduce emissions.

Audi on Friday said it was retrofitting 850,000 of its diesel cars to help improve the emissions in conditions it described as “real driving.”

Government officials have invited top auto executives to meet on August 2 for what it officials called a diesel summit.