By Rhys Jones
LONDON, June 28 – Britain’s consumer watchdog said on Thursday that German automaker Mercedes-Benz and five UK dealers of its trucks and vans may have broken competition law by co-operating illegally.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) issued a provisional finding alleging that the Mercedes-Benz unit of German automotive group Daimler AG and five UK auto dealers were involved in price-fixing and the sharing of commercially sensitive information between 2007 and 2010.
The OFT said that each alleged infringement involved two or three dealers and that its provisional finding was that Daimler’s luxury car brand, Mercedes-Benz, was also involved in two of the alleged infringements.
“The precise content of the arrangements differs among the five alleged infringements, but all contain, to varying degrees, at least some element of market sharing, price co-ordination and/or exchange of commercially sensitive information,” the OFT said in a statement.
“The evidence also suggests that, in respect of two of the alleged infringements, Mercedes-Benz helped to facilitate or consolidate the arrangements amongst the dealers.”
The case involves car dealers in northern England, Wales and Scotland.
The watchdog added that the findings were provisional and that the parties would have a chance to respond before it decided whether competition law had been infringed.
Mercedes-Benz UK said in a statement: “We now have detailed information about the investigation of the OFT for the first time. We will analyse the information and then give our feedback to the OFT.
“We cannot comment further in an ongoing procedure, and we will continue to co-operate with the authorities.”
Shares in Daimler in Frankfurt, which have lost about a quarter of their value in the past three months, were up 1.5 percent at 34.34 euros by 0745 GMT, valuing the group at around 35.6 billion euros ($44.35 billion).
British new car sales in May were up 7.9 percent year on year, the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said this month. The SMMT added that the climb in new car registrations during the first five months of the year suggests that consumer confidence is returning, despite financial uncertainty in the euro zone.
Sales growth at Mercedes-Benz edged up by 4 percent in May, after slipping to 3.6 percent in April, as volumes in its key China market stabilised.