The European Commission on Tuesday announced a record €2.93 billion ($3.2 billion) in antitrust fines against truck makers including Daimler (DDAIF) Volvo (VLVLY) and Paccar Inc. (PCAR - Get Report) , which admitted to participating in a 14-year-long cartel.
Daimler was hit the biggest penalty of just below €1.01 billion while Paccar's DAF Trucks agreed to pay €752.7 million to settle cases launched by the EC in 2011, when it carried out a series of unannounced inspections of the firms.
Among others who settled, Volvo and Renault will share a fine of €670.4 million, while Italy's Iveco, owned by CNH Industrial, of The Netherlands, will have to fork out €494.6 million.
The EC's investigation uncovered collusion on a 'gross list' of manufacturer-set prices for medium and heavy trucks in Europe. It also found that the companies colluded on the introduction of emission technologies for medium and heavy vehicles to comply with increasingly strict European standards, and on passing the costs on to customers for the costs of these technologies.
MAN, of Germany, was let off the hook for a penalty after blowing the whistle on the illegal activity.
Fines were reduced by 10% after the manufacturers admitted they participated in the cartel and their related liability, while the EC's case remains pending against Sweden's Scania (SVKBF) after it chose not to settle.
Tuesday's decision comes more than two and a half years after the EC laid out its concerns in a formal statement of objections. It also comes nearly two decades after senior company management began colluding in a "cozy Brussels hotel," as EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said without spilling any details about the individuals or the venue.
"It is not acceptable that MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF, which together account for around nine out of every ten medium and heavy trucks produced in Europe, were part of a cartel instead of competing with each other," said Vestager. "For 14 years they colluded on the pricing and on passing the costs for meeting environmental standards to customers. This is also a clear message to companies that cartels are not accepted."
Asked why she decided to go for a settlement after issuing a statement of objections, Vestager admitted that was a "novelty" but said it would be beneficial for wronged parties in pursuing damages actions against the companies. They have the right to pursue these cases under the EU's new antitrust damages directive.
Any damages companies involved in the settlement are ordered to pay would come on top of the fines to be paid to the central EU budget.
The five companies concerned now have three months to pay the fines, which go into the central EU budget, while Scania has yet to respond to the EC's allegations as the timetable on that case restarts.
"I would not want to prejudge our final conclusion on the company," Vestager said, of Scania, "which will have full rights to defend itself."
Truck makers' stocks had a mixed reaction to Tuesday's announcement, which was widely expected.
Daimer was down 2% in Frankfurt afternoon trading at €57.15, while Renault was 1.3% lower at €74.08.
Volvo was 2% higher in Stockholm at Skr90.80 ($10.54), while MAN , of Germany, was little changed at €93.57.