EU fines Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo €166m in battery cartel case

Commissioner Vestager pointed out that millions of European consumers were affected as the batteries are installed in popular goods such as laptops and mobiles. [n3rraD/Flickr]

The European Commission has hit Sony, Panasonic and Sanyo with a €166 million fine after finding the three tech giants guilty of forging a cartel for rechargeable batteries.

In a statement issued on Monday (12 December), the executive said that the three companies agreed on temporary price increases in 2004 and 2007, triggered by an increase in the price of cobalt, a raw material used to produce lithium-ion batteries.

Besides which, the firms exchanged commercially sensitive information, such as supply and demand forecasts, price forecasts and intentions concerning particular competitive bids organised by specific manufactures of products such as phones, laptops and power tools.

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said that “millions of Europeans” were affected by the cartel, as they use laptops, mobile phones and other goods that run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Samsung SDI, which was also part of the cartel, was not fined, as the company tipped off the EU authorities about these unfair business practices.

All the parties admitted their involvement and agreed to reach a settlement with Brussels.

More than half of the fine will be paid by Sanyo (€97m), while Panasonic (€38.9m) and Sony (€29m) will pay less. All the companies involved benefited from reduced financial penalties thanks to their willingness to collaborate.

Samsung should have received a €57.7m fine.

Outside Europe

The cartel started in February in 2004. The Commission explained that the contact between the companies’ representatives took place mainly in Asia, and only occasionally in Europe. The cooperation lasted until November 2007.

Vestager used this case to send a warning to other cartel players.

The decision “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,” the Danish Commissioner stresses.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of rechargeable batteries used in portable electronic and electrical devices.

The cartel’s influence affected the main types of these batteries, from the smaller models (prismatic or polymer lithium-ion batteries) installed in smartphones and tablets, to the larger ones (cylindrical lithium-ion batteries) used for laptops and power tools.

This decision is the 22nd settlement since the introduction of this procedure for cartels in June 2008. The Commission defended its decision to reduce the economic sanctions for the companies in this case by at least 10%, saying their cooperation had reduced costs for taxpayers and freed up resources to tackle other cartel cases.

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