Europe just fined Mitsubishi and Hitachi €137 million for being in a car parts 'cartel'

The European Commission has fined Japan’s Hitachi and a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Electrical €137.7 million (£105 million, $150 million) for “participating in a cartel.”

The EC says the cartel relates to each company’s car parts businesses. Mitsubishi’s subsidiary Melco and Hitachi colluded with another firm, Denso, to fix prices of alternators and starters, as well as divide up deals between them. Denso blew the whistle on the cartel, so has avoided a fine.

The EC says in a statement announcing the fine:

The Commission’s investigation revealed that between September 2004 and February 2010 the companies met at each other’s offices and in restaurants and were in contact over the phone on a regular basis, in order to limit competition between them. In particular the three companies:

  • coordinated their responses to certain calls for tenders issued by car manufacturers, in particular with respect to determining the price at which they would tender and who should win the specific business;
  • shared out certain vehicle manufacturers and projects between themselves in terms of which of the three would supply alternators and starters;
  • exchanged commercially sensitive information such as price elements and market strategies.

Mitsubishi is said to be the main offender in the case and bears the brunt of the fine — €110 million of the €137 million.

Mitsubishi says in a statement on Thursday that it will pay the fine, saying: “Mitsubishi Electric, which takes this matter very seriously, cooperated closely with an investigation that was launched on July 22, 2011.”

The EC says today’s fine is “part of a series of major investigations into suspected cartels in the automotive parts sector,” with investigations of exhaust and thermal systems manufacturers just two other probes.

The EC’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager says in the statement:

Breaking cartels remains a top priority for the Commission, in particular when they affect important consumer goods, such as cars. Today’s decision sanctions three car part producers whose collusion affected component costs for a number of car manufacturers selling cars in Europe, and ultimately European consumers buying them. If European consumers are affected by a cartel, the Commission will investigate it even if the cartel meetings took place outside Europe.

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