The investigation into the possible collusion is one of several challenges facing Germany’s vehicle manufacturers as they grapple with the fallout from the diesel emissions scandal.
Two years ago, Volkswagen admitted that it had used software to illegally evade diesel emissions in the United States, and studies by multiple European governments have since found that BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen took advantage of European Union loopholes to weaken a car’s emissions controls outside of test environments.
That has led to a souring of public opinion about diesel engines, which were in more than half of new cars sold in Europe until recently. Customers have since shifted away from the technology, and governments have sought to regulate its use more tightly.
Volkswagen confirmed that it was the subject of the inspections in Germany on Monday, saying the regulators had examined documents at its offices in Wolfsburg and at offices of its Audi subsidiary in Ingolstadt.
Volkswagen and its brands “have been cooperating fully and for a long time with the European Commission,” the company said in a statement. “It is not yet clear whether the European Commission will instigate formal proceedings,” it added.
Daimler, whose brands include Mercedes-Benz, said an “announced inspection” had taken place, and that the company was “cooperating fully.”
Last week, Daimler said that it had offered to provide evidence about a suspected conspiracy to antitrust investigators in return for lower penalties. That could prove highly significant for the company. It already holds the record for the highest cartel fine on a single company imposed by the European Commission. Last year, in connection with a cartel operated by truck manufacturers, the commission fined Daimler more than 1 billion euros, or $1.18 billion.
But while companies are fined huge sums in Europe for participating in cartels, those penalties are drastically lowered on businesses that volunteer information.