12 Japanese Firms Fined In Auto Price Probe

BEIJING (AP) — China announced Wednesday it will fine 12 Japanese auto parts suppliers a total of $202 million for colluding to raise prices in an unfolding anti-monopoly probe of the country's auto industry.

Beijing has launched a series of investigations of global automakers and technology suppliers under its 6-year-old anti-monopoly law in an apparent effort to force down prices. Officials said earlier that Mercedes Benz, Audi and Chrysler also violated the law.

The Japanese suppliers were found to have colluded improperly, some for up to 10 years, to raise prices of ball bearings and other parts, according to China's main planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

"This harmed the legitimate rights and interests of consumers," the agency said on its website.

Regulators have given few details of their probe but industry analysts say they might have been motivated by complaints about the high price of imported luxury vehicles and replacement parts.

Two of the Japanese companies, ball bearing makers NSK Ltd. and NTN Corp., announced Tuesday they were among those being fined.

The others were components suppliers Hitachi Ltd., Denso Corp., Aisan Industry Co., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Mitsuba Corp., Yazaki Corp. and Furukawa Corp. and bearings makers Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. and JTEKT Corp.

The NDRC said the components makers were fined a total of 832 million yuan ($136 million) and the bearings suppliers 403 million yuan ($66 million) but it gave no breakdown by company.

Business groups welcomed the enactment of China's anti-monopoly law in 2008 as a step toward clarifying operating conditions. Since then, they have said it is enforced more actively against foreign companies than against local rivals.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, in a statement last week, said competition law should not be used to achieve other goals such as forcing price reductions. The group said it received reports regulators pressure companies to accept penalties without a full hearing and to avoid involving their governments.

A Ministry of Commerce spokesman denied this week that foreign companies were treated unfairly.

On Monday, the government said Mercedes Benz was guilty of "vertical price-fixing." It said the unit of Germany's Daimler AG used its control over supplies of replacement parts to charge excessive prices.

Officials have said Volkswagen AG's Audi luxury unit and Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV's Chrysler also would face unspecified punishment for violating the law. Toyota Motor Co. has said its Lexus unit is under scrutiny.

Mercedes, Audi and Chrysler responded earlier to the investigation by announcing price cuts of up to 38 percent for vehicles or replacement parts.

Regulators also have announced investigations of Qualcomm Inc., a San Diego, California-based maker of chips used in mobile phones, and software giant Microsoft Corp.

Last year, Chinese regulators fined five foreign dairies and one from Hong Kong a total of $108 million on charges they violated the anti-monopoly law by setting minimum prices their distributors were required to charge.

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