Europe’s truck makers, guilty of operating a price-fixing cartel for 14 years, yesterday were fined €2.93bn – the largest cartel fine in EU history. The biggest penalty, €1bn, was handed to Daimler’s market leading truck arm.
The automotive industry it seems, almost regardless of country or continent, has enjoyed remarkable freedom.
That’s in the sense that it was largely permitted to run its own ship with a minimum of government intervention.
Given the industry’s economic significance and ability to rub shoulders with the high and mighty in political circles, none of that is the least bit surprising.
The Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is just one such example leading up to the ultimate decision to cheat on a hitherto unparalleled scale.
Europe’s heavy truck makers no less acted as though they were untouchable.
From a governmental or regulatory point, to grant such sweeping powers and trust and then to be surprised when they are abused is as naive as to hand the drug cupboard key to an addict and not to expect it to be used.
As Volkswagen’s diesel deceit tragedy now illustrates, the financial penalties for such behaviour have now rocketed to new stratospheric heights.
As if that weren’t enough, Europe’s heavy truck makers also enriched themselves by breaking the rules big time.
But this time their imminent punishment is dished out by Brussels and not the US.
Just like Volkswagen’s eye-watering dieselgate penalties, years of price fixing by Scania, Iveco, DAF, Volvo, Daimler and MAN now yielded a record-breaking €2.3bn fine.
Volkswagen’s price for deceit, a likely €16.2bn and climbing.
To avoid detection of such blatantly anti-competitive strategies, secrecy at all levels is a must.
Price-fixing - ‘you don’t hurt me and I don’t hurt you’ - means that customers pay over the odds and free-market competition no longer exists.
An integral part of this masquerade is to keep expert observers in the dark. With next to no competition you wouldn’t expect lasting notable changes in market share.
Suspicions among expert observer of Europe’s truck scene - fully capable of smelling a rat - were roused by the continuous tightening up of truck data.
Unlike Europe’s car market, which by comparison remains fairly transparent, today there is no such information for Europe’s truck markets.
Represented by their national associations, Europe’s heavy truck makers have made it next to impossible for non-industry members to gain truck sales by manufacturer in order to establish a regular market share picture.
One German autoindustry giant, the driving force in this forever tightening data clampdown, withholds even the most basic information.
More of the same, Germany’s VDA - the industry’s trade body – is no longer publishing regular information on German heavy truck production.
That’s not all.
Setting alarm bells ringing, this time for the car market - after providing this tell-tale data for decades – the supply of car production by model and derivative was stopped.
Concealment on an industrial scale!
Today’s state of play?
In view of yesterday’s EU judgment on Europe’s truck industry cartel, it’s hardly surprising that Europe’s autoindustry, and truck makers in particular, simply hated the idea of journalists rummaging in their vehicle sales and production data.
Just one lesson learned in this business, with positive news there is an abundance of detailed sales and production data.
If, despite repeated request, no data is forthcoming, there’s either bad news, or, as topically illustrated by Europe’s truck makers, they have an awful lot to hide.
What can be learned and what should be done?
An EU directive with teeth to prevent the withholding of such information would be a good