FRANKFURT -- BMW says it will appeal a fine from the Swiss Competition Commission for impeding private imports of its cars to Switzerland.
The 156 million Swiss franc ($163 million) penalty was imposed on the carmaker for "impeding direct and parallel imports," the regulator said in a statement on Thursday.
The commission says it fined BMW for trying to prevent Swiss residents from buying its cars outside Switzerland. The strength of the safe-haven franc in recent years has prompted many Swiss consumers to buy cars in euros in Germany, France or Italy and import them back to Switzerland, hurting car dealerships in the country.
In October 2010, Swiss regulators said they had information suggesting BMW branches were barring sales to Swiss citizens in the European Economic Area, which includes the 27 members of the European Union, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
In Switzerland, BMW was selling the 5-series sedan a prices from 62,200 Swiss francs ($65,090) as of late 2010, including a 7.6 percent value-added tax, according to the company's Web site. The starting price for the same car in Germany, sales tax included, was 41,900 euros ($52,660).
The fine is the third largest sought by the regulator. The competition commission ordered Swisscom to pay 333 million francs in 2007, though that fine was overturned in an appeal.
BMW says it plans to appeal the finr within the legal deadline of one month. "We categorically reject the accusations, the argumentation and the amount of the fine," said a BMW spokeswoman, adding that BMW adhered to all laws governing both Switzerland and the European Economic Area.
Vincent Martenet, the commission's president, said. "The fine is high, but we believe it's proportionate."
He said there were no further investigations planned in the car industry.
"The fine is surprisingly high, considering how small the Swiss market is," said Daniel Schwarz, a Frankfurt-based analyst with Commerzbank. "It reflects Switzerland's problem of trying to protect its domestic market from the appreciation of its currency."
The commission said that BMW and the company's Mini brand should change distribution contracts to allow dealers to export cars to Switzerland. The regulator got "numerous" complaints from consumers who couldn't buy cars in the second half of 2010, when the franc's gain against the euro increased the price difference of cars in Switzerland and neighboring countries, it said.
In response, BMW said "several hundred cars" were imported directly to Switzerland during the time under investigation and the country wasn't shut off. The company said prices reflect differences in configurations and local services and costs.
Sources: Reuters and Bloomberg