UPDATED: 1/7/13 1:47 ET -- Adds comment, details
Japanese supplier Nippon Seiki and its affiliates have agreed to pay a $4.56 million civil settlement with the end-payor class for price-fixing its instrument panel clusters.
This is the first civil court settlement in the wake of an expansive criminal investigation of auto suppliers by the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust arm. In just over two years, federal prosecutors have won criminal fines of more than $1.8 billion along with guilty pleas from 23 companies and 25 executives.
The end-payor class is made up of businesses that bought vehicles for corporate use and individual consumers who purchase cars that aren't for resale, said Hollis Salzman of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., co-lead counsel for the end-payor plaintiffs, in an interview today.
"We are determining the best channels for distribution of the settlement funds to class members. The matter will be before the Court to decide when notice to the class will be issued and the mechanism for distribution of the funds," Salzman said
Nippon Seiki has plants in Asia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Honda owns 6.1 percent of the company.
The settlement agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Dec. 23 and dated Dec. 17, alleges that Nippon Seiki engaged in a conspiracy to raise, fix, maintain/and or stabilize prices and rig bids for its instrument panel clusters. The class-action proceeding is still pending.
Nippon Seiki doesn't believe it's guilty of the charges, but is settling to "avoid further expense, inconvenience, and the distraction of burdensome and protracted litigation," the agreement says. Attempts to reach the company for further comment were not immediately successful.
"Given Nippon Seiki and its affiliates' promise of cooperation, this is an ice-breaker settlement that significantly increases pressure on the remaining instrument panel cluster parts defendants," Salzman said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Justice has cracked down on foreign suppliers for selling price-fixed components to the Detroit 3 automakers, the U.S. subsidiaries of Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries, parent company of Subaru.
In September, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the conspiracies have inflated prices for parts included in more than 25 million vehicles sold to U.S. consumers.
Similar investigations have been under way by authorities in Europe and Asia.