BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) said cooperation among carmakers on technical issues is a common industry practice but declined comment on allegations that it engaged in anti-competitive conduct with other German carmakers.
Volkswagen, Daimler (DAIGn.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE), Audi (NSUG.DE) and Porsche have faced a barrage of public criticism after a report by German magazine Der Spiegel last Friday said carmakers had colluded for decades on prices, technologies and the choice of suppliers to the detriment of foreign rivals.
“The Volkswagen Group has no comment to make at the present time on details of these issues or on speculation which has among other things become the subject of public debate,” VW said on Wednesday after a meeting of its supervisory board.
“It is quite common for car manufacturers all over the world to engage in an exchange on technical issues in order to accelerate the pace and quality of innovations.”
VW’s supervisory board called Wednesday’s meeting after the European Commission confirmed on Saturday that it had received information on suspected collusion and was investigating it.
Daimler’s supervisory board also met on Wednesday to discuss the cartel allegations.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Daimler first raised the issue of collusion with cartel authorities, a move that could earn it immunity.
Companies found guilty of breaching EU cartel rules face fines of as much as 10 percent of their global turnover.
Almost two years after VW’s emissions-test cheating scandal broke, carmakers are keen to avert another industry crisis as they grapple with calls by German politicians to clean up their diesel engines or face their cars being banned in major cities.
At stake is whether German carmakers had used secret technology working groups to discuss issues and whether such talks constituted anti-competitive behavior.
“I believe that a necessary evaluation in individual cases will be rather difficult,” said Stephan Weil, a VW supervisory board member and head of VW’s home state of Lower Saxony. Only antitrust authorities would be capable of detecting possible infringements, he said.
“Especially in recent weeks, the auto industry and Volkswagen have tested the public’s patience in an undeniable way,” said Weil.
Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Tom Sims and Susan Fenton