New database helps German drivers hunt out cheapest petrol
FRANKFURT, Sept 12
FRANKFURT, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Germany's antitrust watchdog launched a real-time database for petrol prices on Thursday in a bid to help drivers find the cheapest filling station online and make it easier to spot market abuse.
Prices at the pumps are a politically-charged topic in Germany, a nation known for its love of automobiles and home to carmakers Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen , but where petrol is heavily taxed.
Now, each time they change prices, stations will have to transmit information to the database, set up by the Federal Cartel Office. Around 13,100 stations are taking part in the first stage, with all 14,500 in Germany to follow after Dec. 1.
The data is then passed on to website operators and consumer advocacy groups such as Germany's powerful motorists' lobby ADAC, which offer online price comparison and mobile apps.
"Consumers have the opportunity of a real price comparison for the first time," cartel office President Andreas Mundt told journalists in Bonn, where the regulator is based.
In a statement on its website, the watchdog said the data collection also "makes it easier for the Federal Cartel Office to intervene in cases of illegal displacement strategies and other forms of abuse of market power".
The watchdog has a history of investigating the German petrol market - dominated by BP's Aral unit, Esso , Shell, ConocoPhillips' Jet unit and Total.
It found in 2011 that oil majors jointly lifted prices before holiday driving seasons but did not find illegal collusion.
The Association of the German Petroleum Industry said it was in favour of transparency but that the initiative would likely have little effect on prices because margins were already tight.
"On average we earn 1-2 cents per litre of petrol sold, which gives an idea of the scope of price changes at the petrol stations," said the group's managing director Klaus Picard in a statement. (Reporting by Matthias Inverardi and Ludwig Burger; editing by Andrew Roche)
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