The EU Commission said on Tuesday that it had received information the German carmakers, along with VW’s Audi and Porsche units, held meetings to discuss clean technologies aimed at limiting car exhaust emissions.
Its investigation will focus on whether they agreed not to compete against each other in developing and introducing technology to restrict pollution from petrol and diesel passenger cars.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that “if proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers”.
The commission said there were no signs so far that the companies illegally co-ordinated with each other to cheat regulatory testing.
Volkswagen and Daimler, which has claimed whistleblower status to avoid any fines, said they were co-operating with the
BMW said it would continue to support the EU authority.
Volkswagen, since admitting to cheating diesel emission tests in 2015, has racked up a bill for fines, fixing and replacing vehicles to date of almost $30bn (£22.9bn).
Campaign group Transport & Environment said it was time for regulators to take action.
“The automotive industry was once a jewel in Europe’s industrial crown, but its global reputation is now deeply
tarnished and cannot be trusted anymore,” said Greg Archer, a director at the group.
“It has become its own worst enemy and needs regulators to act with strength and decisiveness to clean it up and establish rules that put it on a path to zero emissions.”
Companies could face fines up to 10% of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.
The emissions scandal that hit Volkswagen three years ago and continues to dog the carmaking giant, now appears to be engulfing its fellow German auto manufacturers.
In June Daimler was the latest automaker to be hauled before regulators when the country’s transport ministry ordered it to recall recall 238,000 vehicles within Germany, after 774,000 Mercedes-Benz vehicles across Europe were found to have used software to beat diesel emission tests.
Germany can only order the recall of vehicles within its own borders, or of those vehicles issued with a pan-European road-worthiness certification via German authorities.
A week before the recall, the ministry summoned Daimler’s chief executive Dieter Zetsche to answer questions, after Germany’s KBA motor vehicle authority said it found illegal software in one of the manufacturer’s models.