EU Commission raids auto thermal systems suppliers as anti-trust probe widens
German supplier Behr confirms it was targeted; Mahle's acquisition of Behr delayed
DETROIT/BRUSSELS -- European Commission officials carried out raids on makers of thermal systems for cars in May, the EU executive said, part of a wider investigation into accusations that some European car parts producers are operating cartels.
"The European Commission can confirm that on May 22, 2012, Commission officials undertook unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the thermal systems and related products industry," the Commission said in a statement on Friday.
Thermal systems are air conditioning and engine cooling products sold to car manufacturers.
The Commission did not name the companies it had visited and was not immediately available for further comment.
However, German thermal products supplier Behr GmbH confirmed it was a target on Friday.
"As the investigation is at an early stage it is not possible at present to say how long it will take," the statement said.
Behr CEO Peter Grunow, in the statement, said: "Behr is taking these proceedings very seriously. Compliance with applicable law, including antitrust and competition law, is an integral componentof our corporate culture. Accordingly, it is essential that any potential violation is looked into. We will therefore cooperate fully with the investigating authorities and further intensify the activities we already have in place to promote compliance on a global scale."
Mahle GmbH also released a statementsaying its pending acquisition of the majority of Behr has been delayed because of the EU probe.
"As a shareholder, Mahle was informed by the Behr management that investigation proceedings had been initiated against manufacturers of thermal systems for automobiles for suspected competition-restricting practices, which proceedings also concern Behr.
"The European Commission requested an inspection at Behr in Stuttgart/Germany in May. In the United States, the local Department of Justice has also launched investigations."
Mahle, which has a 36.8 percent stake in Behr, won't be affected by the EU probe, Behr said. Mahle first bought an interest in Behr in 2010.
The EU has previously sent officials to check makers of seatbelts and airbags, bearings and car wire harnesses that link car computers to the rest of the vehicle.
The investigations can lead to deeper anti-trust probes and fines.
In the United States, anti-trust authorities have prosecuted six companies and 10 individuals in the ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry. More than $750 million in U.S. fines have been levied.
Philip Nussel in Detroit, Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this reportContact Automotive News