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Scania loses appeal against Commission’s €880 million truck cartel fine

The Court of Justice of the European Union has dismissed Scania's appeal against a fine of more than €880 million for truck cartels, in which the Swedish truck manufacturer argued that the Court hadn't been impartial in the administrative procedure, disputed the Court's characterisation of the geographical scope of its conduct, and argued that the Commission's power to impose a fine was time-barred.

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Scania had challenged a decision by the European Commission, which found that Scania AB, Scania CV AB, and Scania Deutschland GmbH (entities of the Scania group) violated EU antitrust laws by participating in a cartel with competitors from January 1997 to January 2011. The cartel aimed to restrict competition in the market for medium and heavy trucks in the European Economic Area (EEA), leading to the imposition of a €880.523 million fine on Scania.

The General Court had previously rejected Scania’s attempt to annul the Commission’s decision, and Scania appealed this judgment to the Court of Justice.

However, the Court of Justice upheld the General Court’s decision, affirming the fine imposed on Scania.

The Court of Justice dismissed Scania’s arguments that the General Court failed to assess the administrative procedure’s compliance with the principle of impartiality. It found that the Commission’s use of the same team for both the settlement decision and the final decision did not, in itself, raise concerns about impartiality, lacking any other objective evidence presented by Scania.

Furthermore, the Court of Justice rejected Scania’s contentions regarding the characterization of the geographic scope of its conduct and the establishment of a single and continuous infringement. The Court emphasised that Scania had not provided objective evidence to challenge the General Court’s findings.

Finally, the Court of Justice noted that, based on its analysis, the infringement in question concluded on January 18, 2011. Consequently, the five-year limitation period for imposing a fine only began from that date, and the Commission’s authority to impose a fine was not considered time-barred.

A brief history of the truck cartel

The truck cartel scandal dates back to 2016, when the European Commission found that MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF had broken EU antitrust rules. These manufacturers colluded for 14 years to fix truck prices and pass on the costs of complying with stricter emissions rules.

All companies admitted their involvement and agreed to settle the case.

The infringement covered the whole of the EEA and lasted 14 years, from 1997 to 2011, when the Commission carried out surprise inspections at the companies.

As the Commission explained in its 2016 press release, meetings were held at senior manager level between 1997 and 2004, sometimes on the fringes of trade fairs or other events. This was supplemented by telephone conversations. From 2004 onwards, the cartel was organised through the German subsidiaries of the truck manufacturers, with the participants generally exchanging information electronically.

Over the 14 years, the discussions between the companies covered the same topics, namely the respective „gross list price” increases, the timing of the introduction of new emission technologies and the passing on of the costs of the emission technologies to the customers.

And so, in 2016, the Commission imposed a record fine of €2,926,499,000.

The fine was divided as follows:

– Volvo was fined €670 million,

– Daimler was fined over €1 billion,

– Iveco was fined more than €495 million,

– DAF was fined €753 million. 

(MAN was not fined because it revealed the existence of the cartel to the Commission and therefore it was awarded 100 per cent reduction both under the Leniency Notice and the Settlement Notice.

However, Scania, along with the other manufacturers, decided not to settle the cartel case with the Commission, so the Commission’s investigation of Scania was carried out under the standard cartel procedure. The EU body made its decision in September 2017, when it imposed a fine of €880,523,000 on Scania.

Photo: Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 (image coloured, cropped and used for illustrative purposes only)