Officials in China are accusing Daimler of cheating its customers in the world’s largest consumer market by skewing the cost of its cars through illicit arrangements with dealers.
The country’s competition authorities in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu are claiming that Daimler’s subsidiary there gave guidelines for minimum prices for its vehicles, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday. The carmaker now faces penalties worth several percentage points of the revenues of the affected business unit.
Chinese officials have been on a campaign against price fixing.
In 2008, Beijing enacted new laws regulating fair pricing and preventing cartels. The rules had been largely disregarded, but in the past few months the authorities have been strictly enforcing them. A central planning authority in Beijing, the National Development and Reform Commission, is responsible for enforcement and has the rank of a government ministry.
Apparently, it has been difficult for foreign car makers to abandon their practices that have been common for so long in China. Germany’s Audi and numerous Japanese automakers have already admitted that they broke rules. In the province of Hubei, local authorities levied a small fine against BMW’s sales organization.
In each case, the company was accused of using its market power to the detriment of Chinese consumers.
Carmakers are now being forced to lower prices, so dealers have more flexibility for issuing rebates and to help foster greater competition. Analysts said this is not a catastrophe for the companies because until now, the margins have been high. But China was the most lucrative market for German premium suppliers in recent years, so profits could be less abundant in the future.