On 13 July 2017 the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced the imposition of fines amounting up to €9.6M on three European heat shield manufacturers for the automotive industry. A fourth company involved in the agreement was not fined since its cooperation helped disclose the existence of the cartel and provide essential evidence in the investigation, which commenced in 2013.
In 2011, the four automotive suppliers agreed on sharing highly sensitive economic information with respect to a common client, a major German car manufacturer with considerable market power. In order to strengthen their bargaining position with the car manufacturer, the companies agreed to exchange information as to the status of their respective contractual negotiations.
Furthermore, the companies coordinated their price policy by deciding to jointly pass on to customers the price increases of certain ancillary components or processes, such as the increase of certain aluminum-related costs.
As usual, the Federal Cartel Office determined the fines after weighing up the gravity and the duration of the antitrust violation. In addition to that, the Cartel Office factored in the economic standing of the companies in question. Especially the countervailing market power and the behaviour of other market players were taken into account and considered in favour of the accused parties.
Furthermore, the penalties imposed were reduced in recognition of the fact that some of the fined companies cooperated with the FCO in the course of the proceedings.
However, the fines imposed are not yet legally binding. The companies still have the opportunity to appeal the decision of the FCO.