General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. and other automakers by next week must decide if they will challenge an order that they give depositions in the massive Detroit civil lawsuit alleging price-fixing in more than 30 segments of the automotive supply chain.
Gene Esshaki, the special master appointed by U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani to handle some evidence questions and other matters in the civil suit, ordered last week that nine "non-party" automakers and some of their affiliate financing and r&d companies each offer up to 14 hours of deposition over two days apiece.
Testimony will include pricing data for the auto parts in dispute and some vehicle sales data and price adjustments for their networks of automobile and truck dealerships. The companies have up to 14 days to appeal Esshaki's order from last week to Battani.
The 4-year-old civil lawsuit in Detroit is now closing in on half a billion dollars in settlements by about a dozen companies since 2013 along with the $2.6 billion in U.S. criminal fines levied against nearly 40 companies since 2011, when the U.S. Department of Justice began its largest single-industry collusion prosecution.
Most recently, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and its affiliates submitted two preliminary deals worth a combined $84.5 million to the court earlier this month, to settle with a proposed class of automotive dealership plaintiffs and some consumers who bought cars and components at inflated prices.
The same two classes of plaintiffs also reached settlement deals in late 2015 worth a combined $9.74 million for radiator supplier T.Rad Co., $50 million for wire harness systems maker Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd., and $9.7 million for sensor and wire-harness maker Fujikura Ltd. of Tokyo, which recently moved its North American headquarters to Farmington Hills. Other companies had already reached a combined $270 million-plus in proposed settlements by early 2015.
Since January, the supplier defendants in the civil suit and various plaintiffs alleging damages from price-fixing have been arguing before Esshaki on whether the automakers, who have largely stayed out of the case since it began, should provide pricing data, arrangements including possible discounts offered to dealers for sales or leases, and even pricing for nonaccused suppliers for comparative purposes, to help prove a conspiracy. But the scope of information sought got narrower as talks went on in court.
Unless they challenge Esshaki's order, automakers that must offer deposition include GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Hyundai Motor America, Nissan North America Inc., Subaru of America Inc., Kia Motors America Inc., American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Daimler North America Corp., along with some of their financing, manufacturing and other subsidiary and affiliate companies.
Ford Motor Co. is involved in an automaker plaintiff action against the suppliers within the Battani litigation, and was not named in the deposition order. Depositions for other companies in a "smaller OEM group" including BMW, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and others, are on hold pending the outcome of the larger group depositions.
FCA spokesman Michael Palese said this week the company "continues to monitor the matter and to consider its legal options." GM spokesman Nick Richards said the company is looking into the order and did not yet have a comment on Tuesday.