GERMAN Watchdog Searches Offices of Car Makers, Auto Suppliers in Steel Price-Fixing Probe

Germany’s antitrust watchdog launched a steel price-fixing investigation into six companies, including car makers Daimler AG, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG and suppliers Robert Bosch GmbH and ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

The watchdog suspects Germany’s leading car makers and two of the world’s biggest car-parts suppliers agreed on prices they would pay for steel products used in cars.

Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Bosch and ZF confirmed their offices had been searched and said they were cooperating with investigators. They declined to comment further.

The Federal Cartel Office provided no details about potential damages to steelmakers from the alleged price fixing. The auto industry is one of the biggest customers of Germany’s steel industry, accounting for 26% of steel sales, which totaled €37.8 billion ($42.1 billion) last year, according to the German Steel Federation.

Steelmakers are under pressure from the auto industry, which has expanded the use of alternative materials to save weight. Car makers increasingly use lighter components made of aluminum or carbon fiber to help them reduce weight and meet emissions and fuel-economy targets.

Germany’s antitrust office has the power to impose a fine equal to 10% of a company’s annual revenue. The highest penalty that it has imposed was a €700 million fine against a group of cement companies for price fixing. The fine was later reduced to €400 million.

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