The European Commission has fined Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo a total of €166 million after they admitted fixing the market in a cartel deal.
The companies and Samsung SDI coordinated prices and exchanged sensitive information on supplies of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, used in laptops and mobile phones, in breach of EU antitrust rules, the European Commission said.
Sanyo was hit with the highest fine of €97 million. (see graph below)
Samsung SDI was not fined as it revealed the existence of the cartel to the Commission.
All companies acknowledged their involvement in the cartel and agreed to settle the case.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “Millions of Europeans use laptops, mobile phones and power tools that run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Today’s decision sanctions four rechargeable battery producers whose collusion affected the prices of a number of goods sold to European consumers. It also sends an important signal to companies: if European consumers are affected by a cartel, the Commission will investigate it even if the anticompetitive contacts took place outside Europe.”
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of rechargeable batteries used in portable electronic and electrical devices. They can be divided into three types depending on their usage and demand. Cylindrical lithium-ion batteries are for example used in larger devices such as laptops and power tools, whereas smaller devices, like smartphones and tablets, use prismatic or polymer lithium-ion batteries. All these types of battery were affected by the cartel.
The Commission’s investigation found that Samsung SDI, Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo took part in bilateral, and sometimes multilateral, contacts in order to avoid aggressive competition in the market for lithium-ion batteries. In particular, the four companies:
- agreed on temporary price increases in 2004 and 2007 triggered by a temporary increase in the price of cobalt, a raw material used in the production of lithium-ion batteries; and
- exchanged commercially sensitive information such as supply and demand forecasts, price forecasts or intentions concerning particular competitive bids organised by specific manufactures of products such as phones, laptops or power tools.
The cartel contacts took place mainly in Asia and occasionally in Europe. The cartel started in February 2004 and lasted until November 2007.
In a statement the EC said: “In setting the level of fines, the Commission took into account, in particular, the companies’ sales of lithium-ion batteries in the European Economic Area (EEA), the serious nature of the infringement, its geographic scope and its duration.Samsung SDI received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission, thereby avoiding an aggregate fine of € 57 748 000 under the commission’s leniency notice.”
“Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation with the Commission’s investigation under the 2006 Leniency Notice. The reductions reflect the timing of their cooperation and the extent to which the evidence they provided helped the Commission to prove the existence of the cartel.”
The fines were reduced by 10% after the firms admitted their participation in the cartel and of their liability.