Recently, the head of criminal enforcement at the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) warned that DOJ’s investigations into collusion by auto parts manufacturers are expanding. The investigations have already led to corporate fines close to US$1 billion and criminal charges against a dozen executives. The criminal conspiracies currently under investigation involve at least nine different auto parts produced for the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) market, and at least one product for the automotive aftermarket.
The Investigations to Date
The auto parts investigations became public in September 2011 when DOJ announced a US$200 million corporate fine and jail sentences for several executives of a Japanese manufacturer of automotive wire harnesses. Other publicly announced investigations of OEM parts manufacturers include the following products: anti-vibration rubber parts; electronic control units; fuel senders; heater control panels; instrument panel clusters; speed sensor wire assemblies; seatbelts; and a separate conspiracy involving seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels. So far, nine companies have admitted guilt in one or more conspiracies and have agreed to pay criminal fines of more than US$800 million.
The DOJ official noted that the expanding auto parts investigations are likely to be the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Antitrust Division. This means additional products will likely become a focus of the investigations, and additional companies and individuals may face criminal charges.
Advice Going Forward
If, as DOJ predicts, the auto parts investigations will become the Antitrust Division’s largest ever criminal matter, the industry can expect additional products to become the focus of the investigations, and additional companies and individuals to be facing criminal charges. Each auto parts manufacturer, even if it is not currently involved in the investigations, may want to make an assessment of the risks facing it The antitrust and white collar groups at Squire Sanders have former DOJ lawyers with significant expertise in these matters who are well-situated to provide advice; the practice is currently providing representation in one of the investigations. The DOJ’s warning that the investigation is expanding should put companies on notice: if you have not already done so, now is the time to consider how to identify and mitigate the risks stemming from these investigations.
For more information regarding the Department of Justice auto parts criminal investigations, please contact your principal Squire Sanders lawyer or one of the individuals listed in this publication.