An antitrust investigation into automotive wiring harnesses has spread across three continents and involves at least seven international auto suppliers.
Investigators from the FBI raided the U.S. headquarters of Denso Corp., Yazaki North America Inc. and Tokai Rika Group North America, including its Tram Inc. unit; the European Commission carried out "unannounced inspections" of companies in Europe; and Japan's Fair Trade Commission raided offices of Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd., Yazaki Corp. and Furukawa Electric Co.
The European Commission did not identify the companies involved in its search. But Lear Corp., of suburban Detroit, acknowledged that it is part of the investigation there, as did Leoni AG, of Germany. News outlets in Europe identified Leoni unit Leoni Kabel GmbH, of Roth, Germany, as a target.
The international investigation centers on wiring harnesses, the distribution system of cables and connectors that carry electronic information throughout the car.
"Wire harnesses are generally considered the central nervous system of a car, linking the car's computers to the various relevant functions in the vehicle," the EC noted in its announcement yesterday about the investigation.
The antitrust investigations are looking at whether the companies improperly divided up business with automakers.
"The commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated [European Union] antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive businesses practice," the EC said.
Japanese broadcaster NHK cited a source at Japan's Fair Trade Commission as saying the investigation alleges collusion between the companies dating from 2003.
The FBI investigation looked at U.S. activities of Japanese companies Denso, Yazaki and Tokai Rika with raids Tuesday at their suburban Detroit corporate offices. The investigation does not involve accelerator problems, which have been at the center of recalls and other investigations in the United States.
Companies including Denso and Lear said they would cooperate with the investigations.
"I am confident that our company is not involved in any anticompetitive practices," Lear CEO Bob Rossiter, said in a release today.
Robert Bosch GmbH, the world's biggest automotive parts supplier, and France's Valeo SA said they were not involved in the European investigation.
The inspections are a "preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices," the EC said. "The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior."
The European investigation does not have a strict deadline to complete its work.
In the United States, Gina Talamona, deputy director of public affairs for the Department of Justice in Washington, said Wednesday that "the antitrust division is investigating the possibility of anti-competitive cartel conduct of automotive electronic components suppliers. "
"We are coordinating with the European Commission and other foreign competition authorities."
Talamona declined to comment further, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Ryan Beene of Crain's Detroit Business and Reuters contributed to this report.