UPDATE 2-Spanish watchdog probes car industry price fixing
By Robert Hetz
MADRID, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Spain's antitrust regulator CNC said on Wednesday it is investigating possible price fixing in the country by some of the world's largest car firms.
CNC will examine evidence that affiliates of, among others, Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot, Toyota, General Motors, Nissan and Ford shared market-sensitive information to set prices and service contracts.
"These are considered very serious (alleged) infringements that could lead to fines of up to 10 percent of total (Spanish) annual turnover," CNC said in a statement.
The investigation, which targets both the companies and their Spanish distributors, was a priority "given the serious consequences for consumers," it added.
Nissan, Ford, Toyota and Seat, which is VW's Spanish subsidiary, said they were aware of the investigation and were cooperating.
"The opening of the proceedings does not mean that any competition law infringement has taken place," Nissan said in a statement. Renault also said the company had not broken any competition laws, while Ford added it operated within the law.
"GM Espana has never engaged in any cartel and will cooperate with the authorities to support their investigation," a GM spokesman said.
UNDER THE COSH
Spanish carmakers have struggled for business against the backdrop of a five-year economic slump that, along with an unemployment rate above 25 percent, has depressed demand for consumer goods.
They have been able to draw on a government scheme to subsidise purchases of new cars, extended by 70 million euros ($92 million) in July after an initial programme expired.
Under the scheme, people who scrap their old car and buy a new one get a rebate of 2,000 euros, half from the government and half from the carmaker.
But sales of new cars in the country dropped 18.3 percent year-on-year in August, manufacturers' association Anfac said on Monday.
The CNC said the probe will be based on data gathered in June and July during inspections of showrooms and the headquarters of the main car brands present in Spain.
Spain's car manufacturing sector has been helped by labour market reforms which has made it easier for firms to hire and fire workers.