US levies $740m price-fixing fines against Japanese auto firms

Posted on 1 Oct 2013 by Ruari McCallion

Auto suppliers plead guilty to years of price fixing in the US

The US Department of Justice has levied fines totalling over $740m against nine Japan-based auto parts manufacturers and two executives, for price-fixing. The US Anti-Trust Division has now charged 20 companies and 21 executives in its ongoing investigation and levied fines in excess of $1.5bn.

GM, Ford and Chrysler have all been affected by price-fixing allegations, along with foreign-owned companies.

Nine Japan-based companies and two executives have agreed to plead guilty and to pay a total of more than $740m in criminal fines for their roles in separate conspiracies to fix the prices of more than 30 different products sold to US car manufacturers and installed in cars sold in the United States and elsewhere, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced.

It said that price-fixed automobile parts were sold to Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, as well as to the US subsidiaries of Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru). Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, said that the price-fixing conspiracies affected more than $5bn in automobile parts sold to US car manufacturers, fitted to more than 25 million cars sold in the USA.

“The Department of Justice will continue to crack down on cartel behaviour that causes American consumers and businesses to pay higher prices for the products and services they rely upon in their everyday lives,” he said. Some of the price-fixing conspiracies lasted for a decade or longer, and many car models were fitted with multiple parts that were price-fixed by the auto parts suppliers.

The investigation and the levelling of prosecutions were aided by competition regulators in other countries as well; the DoJ described the conspiracy as “international”.

Including those identified below, 20 companies and 21 executives have now been charged in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry. All 20 companies have either pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay more than $1.5bn in criminal fines.

Seventeen of the 21 executives have been sentenced to serve time in US prisons or have entered into plea agreements calling for significant prison sentences. Each of the companies and executives charged today has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing antitrust investigation.  The plea agreements are subject to court approval.

The companies’ agreed fines are:

Offender companies have agreed to pay criminal fines of over $740m.

Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd to pay a $195m criminal fine
Jtekt Corporation ($103.27m)
Mitsuba Corporation ($135m)
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) ($190m)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. ($14.5m)
NSK Ltd. ($68.2m)
T.RAD Co. Ltd. ($13.75m)
Valeo Japan Co. Ltd. ($13.6m)
Yamashita Rubber Co. Ltd. ($11m)

Tetsuya Kunida, a Japanese citizen and former executive of a U.S. subsidiary of a Japan-based automotive anti-vibration rubber products supplier will serve 12 months and one day in a U.S. prison and pay a $20,000 criminal fine. Gary Walker, a U.S. citizen and former executive of a U.S. subsidiary of a Japan-based automotive products supplier will serve 14 months in a U.S. prison and pay a $20,000 criminal fine.

The multiple conspiracies affected automobile plants in 14 states. They are Alabama; California; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana; Kansas; Kentucky; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; Ohio; Tennessee; Texas and Wisconsin, the department said.

It coordinated its investigation with the Japanese Fair Trade Commission, the European Commission, Canadian Competition Bureau, Korean Fair Trade Commission, Mexican Federal Economic Competition Commission and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.