Brussels - European antitrust regulators are investigating whether BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen colluded to restrict the rollout of clean emission technology, a move that could lead to hefty fines for the German trio.
The European Commission opened an in-depth investigation on Tuesday, nearly a year after it raided the companies and two years after it slapped a record 2.93 billion euro (50.5bn) fine on a group of truck makers, including Mercedes parent company Daimler, for fixing prices and delaying the adoption of cleaner engine technology.
The EU executive said the "circle of five" - BMW, Daimler and VW, Audi and Porsche - held meetings where they may have colluded to limit the development and roll-out of certain emissions control systems for cars sold in Europe.
"These technologies aim at making passenger cars less damaging to the environment. If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers," European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.
The Commission said the technologies involved were selective catalytic reduction systems, which reduce nitrogen oxides from diesel car emissions, and "Otto" particulate filters that reduce particulate matter emissions from petrol cars.