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Antitrust: European Commission fines producers of wire harnesses € 141 million in cartel settlement

The European Commission has fined the car parts suppliers Sumitomo, Yazaki, Furukawa, S-Y Systems Technologies (SYS) and Leoni a total of € 141 791 000 for operating five cartels for the supply of wire harnesses to Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Renault. Wire harnesses conduct electricity in cars, for instance to start the motor, to open … Continued

The European Commission has fined the car parts suppliers Sumitomo, Yazaki, Furukawa, S-Y Systems Technologies (SYS) and Leoni a total of € 141 791 000 for operating five cartels for the supply of wire harnesses to Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Renault. Wire harnesses conduct electricity in cars, for instance to start the motor, to open the window or to switch the air-conditioner on. They are often described as the ‘central nervous system’ of the car. The cartels covered the whole European Economic Area (EEA).

Sumitomo was not fined for any of the five cartels as it benefited from immunity under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice for revealing the existence of the cartels to the Commission. All other companies received reductions of their fines for their cooperation in the investigation under the Commission’s leniency programme. Since the companies agreed to settle the case with the Commission, their fines were further reduced by 10%.

Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, Joaquín Almunia, said: “The cartelised car parts were sold to Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Renault including for cars produced in Europe. Today’s decision shows the first results in the Commission’s wider investigative effort to detect and sanction any illegal cartels in markets for car parts. Such cartels may harm the competitiveness of the automotive industry and artificially inflate prices for final buyers of cars”.

The companies coordinated the prices and allocation of supplies of wire harnesses to the respective car manufacturers. The cartel contacts took place both in Japan and in the EEA:

– For Toyota and Honda, the participants rigged a series of tenders for the supply of wire harnesses, including all tenders for supplies to the European manufacturing facilities published during the cartel period.

– For Nissan and Renault, the participants rigged – or attempted to rig – single tendering procedures for some individual models.

Sumitomo, Yazaki, Furukawa, SYS and Leoni were involved in one or several of the infringements. The duration of the cartels varied. The below table provides an overview of the overall duration and participants for each of the infringements (duration for individual participants in each of the infringement may vary):

ToyotaSumitomo, Yazaki and Furukawa6 March 2000 to 5 August 2009
HondaSumitomo, Yazaki and Furukawa5 March 2001 to 7 September 2009
NissanSumitomo and Yazaki14 September 2006 to 16 November 2006
Renault ISumitomo and SYS28 September 2004 to 13 March 2006
Renault IISumitomo, SYS and Leoni5 May 2009 to 22 December 2009

The total fine imposed on each of the undertakings for their participation in the respective infringements is as follows:

Yazaki – € 125 341 000 for its involvement in the Toyota, Honda and Nissan infringements,

Furukawa – € 4 015 000 for its involvement in the Toyota and Honda infringements,

SYS – € 11 057 000 for its involvement in the two Renault infringements and

Leoni – € 1 378 000 for its involvement in the Renault II infringement.

The fines were set on the basis of the Commission’s 2006 Guidelines on fines.

In setting the level of fines, the Commission took into account the companies’ sales of the products concerned in the EEA, the very serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration.

Sumitomo received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel and thereby avoided a fine of € 291 638 000 for its participation in all five infringements.

All parties benefited from reductions under the 2006 Leniency Notice. Furukawa, Yazaki, SYS and Leoni received reductions of fines ranging from 20 to 50% for their cooperation. The reductions reflect the timing of their cooperation and the extent to which the evidence they provided helped the Commission to prove the respective cartels.

Moreover, under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission reduced the fines imposed by 10% as the companies concerned acknowledged their participation in the cartel and their liability in this respect.

Wire harnesses transmit electrical power throughout the vehicle: passenger’s safety, comfort and in general the motor function of the vehicle depend on the electrical power transmitted by wire harnesses.

The Commission’s investigation started with unannounced inspections in February 2010 (see MEMO/10/49). The Commission opened proceedings in August 2012 (see IP/12/894).

In parallel, the Commission is currently investigating other areas of the car parts sector. Unannounced inspections by the Commission have taken place in the sectors of occupant safety systems, bearings, thermal systems and lighting.

More information on this case will be available under the case number 39748 in the public case register on the Commission’s competition website, once confidentiality issues have been dealt with. For more information on the Commission’s action against cartels, see its cartels website.

The settlement procedure
Today’s decision is the seventh settlement decision since the introduction of the settlement procedure for cartels in June 2008. Under a settlement, companies that have participated to a cartel acknowledge their participation in the infringement and their liability for it. The settlement procedure is based on the Antitrust Regulation 1/2003 and allows the Commission to apply a simplified procedure and thereby reduce the length of the investigation. This is good for consumers and for taxpayers as it reduces costs; good for antitrust enforcement as it frees up resources to tackle other suspected cases; and good for the companies themselves that benefit from quicker decisions and a 10% reduction in fines.

The Commission previously reached settlements with participants in cartels for DRAMs, animal feed phosphates, washing powder, glass for cathode ray tubes, compressors for fridges and water management products.

Action for damages
Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages. The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision is binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine.

In June 2013, the Commission has adopted a proposal for a Directive that aims at making it easier for victims of anti-competitive practices to obtain such damages (see IP/13/525 and MEMO/13/531). More information on antitrust damages actions, including a practical guide on how to quantify the harm typically caused by antitrust infringements, the public consultation and a citizens’ summary, is available at:

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