Trucks litigation: Amsterdam Court sides with claimants
On 12 May 2021, the Amsterdam District Court (the Court) decided against the truck manufacturers, dismissing almost all pleas of the truck manufacturers. In particular, the Court rejected the truck manufacturers’ arguments according to which the claimants could not have theoretically suffered damages, demanding that the lawsuits should be struck out.
On 16 July 2016, the European Commission found that five major trucks manufacturers – MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF – (the Manufacturers) coordinated the pricing of trucks from 1997 to 2011, as well as colluded on the timing of the introduction of emission technologies and the passing on to customers of the costs of those technologies (the 2016 Decision).
The Manufacturers cannot take back the 2016 Decision
The Court followed the majority of the claimants’ pleadings, which drew heavily on Hausfeld's previous successes in proceedings before the UK courts (at first instance and on appeal). The Court stressed the following points:
- The manufacturers are bound by the whole decision of the European Commission, which they were able to negotiate for nine months.
- The infringement did not consist of a mere "exchange of information", but of an actual price coordination.
- The 2017 decision against Scania may be used in these proceedings to provide further details of the cartel. This second decision, albeit still confidential for the most part, provides overwhelming evidence against the Manufacturers, detailing meetings and exchanges of information between the Manufacturers.
Furthermore, the Court ruled that the 2016 Decision covered not only the direct sales of new trucks from the manufacturer, but also sales involving intermediary dealers.
The claimants could suffer harm because of the cartel
At this stage of the proceedings, the claimants had to show that, in theory, they could at least have plausibly suffered harm due to the cartel.
The Manufacturers mainly pleaded that the infringement could not have led to any harm at all, nor that the claimants sufficiently demonstrated the opposite. The cartelists’ economic theories focused on demonstrating the absence of harm due to the absence of a link between gross list prices and net prices.
The Court wholly disagreed with the Manufacturers and held that it did not matter that there may still have been some competition in the trucks market at the time of the cartel. Since the cartel meetings took place high up in the hierarchy and only related to gross-price lists, the illusion of full competition could be maintained both within and outside their organisations. One of the theories of harm put forward by the claimants was considered “conclusive and convincing”.
"Even at the hearing, the Truck manufacturers were unable to provide a convincing answer to the question of what the purpose of the information exchange on gross price lists was,"the judges wrote in their interim judgment.
In conclusion, the Court found that it cannot be concluded that the infringement did not lead to damages for claimants.
At the next stage of these proceedings, the claimants will have to prove for every claimant that they could at least have plausibly suffered harm due to the cartel.
Brussels and Paris Managing Partner Laurent Geelhand notes “This judgment is a welcome relief to our clients, who were impacted by the Manufacturers’ misconduct. Five years after the decision was published, we now expect this litigation to gain momentum in the interests of our clients”.