Spain Levies Hefty Fines in Latest Price-Fixing Case

Automakers planning to appeal the fines may argue the fragmented Spanish market is competitive. Their combined market share is 91% but no single brand has a stake greater than 10%, spurring discounts averaging €4,000.

Jorge Palacios, Correspondent

August 14, 2015

2 Min Read
Fines against whistleblower SEAT parent VW waived
Fines against whistleblower SEAT, parent VW waived.

MADRID – A government watchdog agency levies €171 million ($191 million) against 21 automakers and two U.S. consultancies operating in Spain, culminating a third price-fixing investigation.

The previous investigations by the National Commission on Competition and Markets resulted in fines totaling €52 million ($58 million) against several dealer groups and consulting companies. As with most of those businesses, the majority of companies targeted in the latest probe say they will appeal the penalties.

In the latest investigation, the commission determined the companies conducted anticompetitive practices in business management, sales and marketing from February 2006 to August 2013.

The activities included the systematic exchange of confidential and commercially sensitive information covering new- and used-vehicle sales, repairs, maintenance and the distribution and sale of OEM parts.

The largest penalties were levied against the Spanish subsidiaries of General Motors (€22.8 million [$25.5 million]), Ford (€20.2 million [$22.6 million]), Renault Espana Comercial (€18.2 million [$20.3 million]), Peugeot (€15.7 million [$17.5 million]), Citroen (€14.8 million [$16.5 million]), Toyota (€8.7 million [$9.7 million]), BMW (€8 million [$8.9 million]) and Fiat (€7 million [$7.8 million]).

The commission says the secret exchange of information was facilitated by the Urban Science and Snap-On Business Solutions consultancies, which were fined €70,039 ($78,314) and €52,785 ($59,025), respectively.

The watchdog agency closed its investigations of Peugeot Citroen Automobiles Spain (its Peugeot and Citroen units were investigated and fined separately), Renault Spain (its Renault Espana Comercial subsidiary also was investigated and fined separately) and independent parts distributor Orio Spain without penalizing them.

The commission waived €39.4 million ($43.9 million) against Volkswagen and its SEAT Spanish subsidiary because SEAT alerted investigators to the alleged price-fixing practices.

Fines against the companies range from 0.1% to 2% of their 2014 revenues. The penalties cannot be administratively appealed, but a judicial review can be sought up to two months after notification is issued. The status of the appeals filed by the automakers and dealers previously fined by the commission is not available.

Automakers planning to appeal the fines may argue the Spanish market is highly fragmented and therefore competitive. The penalized manufacturers’ combined share of the Spanish auto market is 91%, but no single brand has a market share greater than 10%, spurring discounts currently averaging €4,000 ($4,450).

The investigation has created tension between ANFAC, the primary Spanish auto-industry association, and VW and SEAT. Some of the sanctioned companies reportedly refuse to participate in meetings where VW and SEAT representatives are present.

ANFAC’s next president, to be named in early 2016, will need a high degree of acceptance across the industry to take on the difficult task of mending relationships.

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