German carmakers have reportedly met in secret for years—and may have colluded on emissions controls

From left, Daimler boss CEO Dieter Zetsche, BMW CEO Harald Krüger, and VW CEO Matthias Müller.
From left, Daimler boss CEO Dieter Zetsche, BMW CEO Harald Krüger, and VW CEO Matthias Müller.
Image: AP/ Matthias Schrader
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the country’s powerful automakers have been meeting in secret since the 1990s—and their joint decisions on dealing with diesel emissions may have laid the groundwork for Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scandal.

According to Der Spiegel (link in German), VW admitted to German authorities that it may have engaged in “anti-competitive behavior” with rivals BMW and Daimler via special committees of up to 200 employees that set prices, agreed on suppliers, and engaged in other forms of coordination.

One major topic of the meetings was how to manage emissions from diesel engines. The result, as we now know in Volkswagen’s case, was the installation of emissions-cheating software, which was uncovered by American regulators in 2015 and has cost the automaker dearly since.

Daimler tried to get ahead of things this week by recalling 3 million diesel vehicles in Europe for a free emissions-system alteration. Audi followed suit today, with a similar offer to “improve emissions behavior” for 850,000 cars. 

Spiegel says that German regulators discovered signs of an illegal agreement between the automakers this summer, when they were investigating Volkswagen on suspicion that carmakers were fixing the price of steel.

Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW declined to comment on the Spiegel report, with the latter two calling it “speculation.”

Germany’s automakers are anxious as a backlash against diesel motors gathers pace. Several European cities—including Stuttgart, the home of Porsche—have called for a ban on diesel cars, which accounted for around 47% of cars sold (paywall) in Europe’s five biggest markets in the second quarter of this year.