Ball bearing manufacturers fined EU1bn for price fixing

Posted on 20 Mar 2014 by Tim Brown

The European Commission announced yesterday that it has imposed fines of nearly EU1bn on a cartel of European and Japanese ball bearings manufacturers in response to findings of price fixing.

The six companies “colluded to secretly coordinate their pricing strategy vis-a-vis automotive customers for more than seven years” said the Commission in announcing the EU953m in fines.

The largest fine of EU370.5m euros was imposed on Germany’s Schaeffler, followed by Sweden’s SKF whoe received a fine of EU315.1m.

Of the four Japanese companies, three were fined: NTN EU201.4m, NSK EU62.4m and NFC nearly EU4m.

The fourth company, JTEKT, escaped a fine as it reported the cartel to the European Commission.

The other five companies had their fines reduced as they agreed to settle with the Commission.

“Today’s decision is a further milestone in the Commission’s ongoing effort to bust cartels in the markets for car parts,” said Competition Commission Joaquin Almunia.

The Commission said the companies colluded from 2004 to 2011 to pass along steel cost increases to vehicle manufacturers.

European vehicle manufacturers, which are estimated to have bought over 2 billion euros in bearings annually, would request bids to select their suppliers for the metal spheres which reduce friction between moving parts in cars and trucks.

The commission said the six bearings manufacturers had colluded and shared sensitive information in submitting bids.

The Commission has also busted producers of automotive electric wiring and foam used in car seats.

“I hope the fines imposed will deter companies from engaging in such illegal behaviour and help restore competition in this industry,” said Almunia.

“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,” he added.

Sweden’s SKF, the world’s biggest maker of industrial bearings, said it had intensified its compliance and training programmes, and acknowledged the coordination of bids had been unacceptable.

“While we strongly believe that no damage has been caused to our business partners this conduct is in clear violation of our values and the SKF code of conduct,” said chief executive Tom Johnstone.