CHICAGO Nippon Seiki Co. Ltd. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $1-million fine for its role in an alleged conspiracy to fix prices of instrument panel clusters, or meters, installed in vehicles sold in the United States and abroad, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday.
Nippon Seiki allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilize and maintain the prices of, instrument panel clusters sold to automakers between April 2008 and February 2010, according to a one-count felony charge filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan. The company allegedly met with others in order to rig bids and fix prices for vehicles on a model-by-model basis.
As part of the plea agreement, which is still subject to the courts approval, Nagoka, Japan-based Nippon Seiki has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Departments ongoing investigation.
"For nearly two years, Nippon Seiki conspired to sell instrument control panels at collusive and noncompetitive prices, affecting the prices of many automobiles sold in the United States," according to Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Departments antitrust divisions criminal enforcement program. "The division will continue to hold companies accountable for these types of anticompetitive practices that harm American consumers."
Including Nippon Seiki, eight companies have been charged with automotive parts price fixing and bid rigging since last autumn and agreed to pay fines totaling more than $785 million. Eleven executives also have been charged; seven have been sentenced to jail and fined, two have pleaded guilty and await sentencing, and one is expected to plead guilty at a Sept. 26 hearing (amm.com, Aug. 21).
The far-reaching probe has so far included wire harness systems, seating, steering wheels, airbags, heater control panels, anti-lock braking systems and other vehicle parts. Japanese and European Union commercial competition authorities reportedly are carrying out similar investigations.
Companies named in the original and subsequent indictments face a variety of lawsuits from consumers and automobile dealers in the United States and Canada.