Opel and Mercedes-Benz raided over 'price-fixing'

European Commission competition inspectors have carried out dawn raids on the offices of the German car makers Mercedes-Benz and Opel in connection with allegations of price- and distribution-fixing, EU officials revealed yesterday.

Brussels sources warned that both companies could be stripped of their exemptions from EU rules that ban exclusive distribution arrangements if inquiries produce evidence of illegality.

The raids followed complaints from consumers who were repeatedly blocked when they tried to purchase the models they wanted in countries where they can be bought most cheaply. It is understood that complaints allege breaches of the EU's 1995 ruling on car distribution. This permits restrictive dealership and servicing agreements between manufacturers and sales outlets but only subject to strict conditions aimed at giving car buyers more opportunity to shop around to take advantage of the single European market.

EU competition Commissioner Karel van Miert renewed the car industry's longstanding "group exemption" from normal competition rules in June 1995 but insisted on giving dealers greater independence from manufacturers and specifically banned any impediments to the right of consumers to purchase a car anywhere in the Community.

News of the crackdown on Opel and Mercedes came as the Commission complained that so-called parallel trade in cars, which occurs when nationals of one EU country opt to buy a vehicle in a cheaper country, is being blocked in Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

Price comparisons of the EU's 75 best-selling models released by the Commission yesterday shows a gap of more than 20 per cent between the lowest and highest prices for 40 cars. On 1 November list prices varied most for Fiat, Ford, Opel, Citroen, Volkswagen, Nissan and Mitsubishi cars. And prices for some small cars varied by more than 30 per cent.

Britain has joined the ranks of the most expensive member states in which to buy a car according to the survey. The Commission says this is due to price hikes by manufacturers and the rise in sterling's value.

Fifteen of the 75 models looked at were most expensive in the UK including the Opel Corsa and Astra, the Peugeot 106 and 306, and the Renault Megane. Britain was cheapest for only three models: the BMW 730i and Volvo's 850 and 960.

Buyers will find no bargains in Germany or France which had the highest list prices in the EU. Both countres each had 30 of the dearest models. By contrast, the Netherlands and Portugal are the cheapest countries for cars.

The list price for an Opel Astra in Britain was 32.8 percentage points higher than for the equivalent in Portugal. The difference is attributed to exchange rate-induced price increases.

The Commission's six-monthly car price surveys aim to highlight the opportunities for parallel trade and to pressurise car makers into creating a genuine single market.

Volkswagen and its subsidiary Audi are already under investigation for alleged malpractice in relation to pricing and distribution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Adviser - OTE £30,000

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy