Truck makers face damages of up to £13bn in price-fixing lawsuit

A British law firm is applying to lodge a class action suit worth up to GBP13bn against Europe’s biggest truck makers after they were accused of price fixing. Buyers of trucks made by Volvo, Daimler, Iveco, MAN and DAF, could have been ripped off to the tune of GBP20,000, its lawyers argue. While councils and fire services have lodged their own suits, this is the first attempt to gather claims together and include smaller operators, with 90pc of truck operating licences held by businesses with 10 trucks or fewer, law firm Weightmans estimates.

It said that 650,000 trucks were sold during the time the cartel existed, meaning the claim could be as large as GBP13bn. It could be even higher if the court agrees that pricing could still have been skewed after the cartel formally disbanded. Five years ago, the European Commission said that the five truck firms colluded to fix prices over the course of 14 years from 1997 to 2011.

MAN escaped a EUR1.2bn penalty because it blew the whistle on the practice, but the remaining four companies shared a EUR3bn fine. Last year, the Commission made its final ruling, describing the companies as a “cartel”. It said they coordinated pricing at factory level and passed on costs of mandatory emission controls to customers.

They also sought to delay the cost of stricter pollution controls, the ruling said. Managers often exchanged pricing information at trade fairs, organising the discussions around their German subsidiaries, the Commission said. At the time, the fine cast a pall over the already wounded reputation of the European motor industry as it came just a year after Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal.

Weightmans has applied to the Competition Appeal Tribunal to bring a collective claim for damages on an opt-out basis. That means claimants can go their own way if they wish, but that the company will seek compensation on their behalf if they do not. The hearing was in April and the firm is waiting for a decision, said Laurence Pritchard, head of competition law at Weightmans.

Central to the claim will be proving that there was a loss to the truck buyers. The law firm has hired an expert to produce economic models to show how losses could be made in a case that could break new ground in collective claims. “There have been damages claims rules with regard to competition law, but this is a new regime for collective actions,” he said.

A Daimler Trucks spokesman said: “We thoroughly assess all customer claims and will vigorously defend ourselves against unjustified claims. The European Commission has not made any findings in its decision with respect to possible damage to customers. “This also illustrates the high hurdles that exist for plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs must demonstrate in detail that the exchange of information in fact led to a concrete damage. Considerable internal time and effort will be required to furnish that proof and customers will ultimately not be in the position to meet that threshold.” A Volvo spokesman said it would not comment on the proposed case, but said that it is “convinced” that the sharing of price information “did not have any effect on the individually negotiated transaction prices”.

A spokesman for DAF trucks declined to comment and Iveco and MAN did not respond to requests for comment.