BRUSSELS -- The European Commission slapped a 49.5 million euros ($59 million) fine on PSA/Peugeot-Citroen on Wednesday as part of its efforts to prevent carmakers from breaking competition rules by thwarting cross-border sales.
Peugeot blocked exports of new cars from the Netherlands, where vehicles are cheaper than in other European Union countries, preventing consumers elsewhere in the bloc from benefiting from the EU's single market, the Commission said.
Peugeot committed "a very serious violation" of a ban on restrictive business practices between 1997 and 2003, said the Commission, which accused the French carmaker in July 2004 of breaching European Union competition rules.
"This decision demonstrates the Commission's determination to use the EC Treaty's competition rules to prevent companies from depriving consumers of the benefits of the single market," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.
Peugeot spokesman Hugues Dufour said the company "has taken notice of the decision by the Commission and regrets that its arguments have not been convincing."
Peugeot said in a statement that the Commission had reproached it for establishing a dealer remuneration system that limited sales of cars from the Netherlands to other countries.
"In reality, this system had as its sole objective to boost Peugeot's market share in the Netherlands and in no way attempted to prevent sales across the border," it said, adding that all clients living outside the Netherlands and who wanted to buy Peugeot cars from the country had been supplied.
PEUGEOT TO WEIGH APPEAL
"Peugeot will study the decision by the European Commission ...to decide whether to appeal," the spokesman said.
A top European court last month slashed a fine that DaimlerChrysler AG had been ordered to pay by Brussels for blocking competition.
Kroes said the EU executive would not appeal against the decision by the EU Court of First Instance that cut DaimlerChrysler's fine to 9.8 million euros from an original 72 million euros.
The Commission is appealing against a separate competition case it lost against Volkswagen AG.
Kroes said the case against Peugeot was different from those against the two German carmakers because it involved independent car showrooms.
She told reporters that the Commission often got complaints about the sales practices of carmakers and it was ready to act.
"We still receive frequent complaints from consumers and from car dealers alleging anti-competitive activity on the part of manufacturers, and this must stop," she said.
This month EU rules came into force to allow car dealers to set up shop anywhere in the EU, following the elimination of the so-called "location clause" that carmakers once used to restrict dealers' rights to open showrooms throughout the bloc.