EU antitrust watchdog fines Schaeffler, SKF and three others $1.3 billion image

German engineering group Schaeffler, Sweden’s SKF and three Japanese car parts makers were fined a total €953.3 million ($1.3 million) by European Union antitrust regulators for taking part in a ball bearings cartel.

The sanctions are the latest from the European Commission which is investigating price-fixing of more than 100 car parts by more than 70 companies in the auto industry. Several car parts makers have also been fined in recent years in the U.S., Japan and Canada for fixing prices of products ranging from seatbelts, radiators and windshield wipers to air-conditioning systems.

According to the investigation from the EU antitrust authority, the cartel lasted for more than seven years between April 2004 and July 2011 in Europe, where the ball bearings market is estimated to be worth at least €2 billion a year.

Germany’s Schaeffler received the biggest fine (€370.5 million), while the second-largest fine was received by SKF (€315.1 million). The fines for Japanese companies NTN, NSK and NFC were €201.35 million, €62.4 million and €3.96 million respectively. All five companies acknowledged taking part in the cartel in return for a 10 percent cut in their penalties.

Another Japanese company, JTEKT, escaped a sanction as it told the European Commission about the cartel, prompting raids on the cartel members by the regulator in November 2011.

“If left unchallenged, cartels for car parts might impair the competitiveness of the automotive sector and artificially raise the price paid by European consumers who buy cars,” said European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.