October 23, 2017 10:30 AM, EDT

Volkswagen and Daimler Inspected by EU as Cartel Probe Widens

Alex Kraus/Bloomberg News

Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG were inspected by European Union antitrust investigators as the EU stepped up a probe into allegations the German car industry colluded on technology for decades.

Volkswagen said EU officials visited its Wolfsburg headquarters and its Audi unit’s offices in Ingoldstadt, Germany. Daimler received “an announced visit” from EU cartel investigators to its Stuttgart headquarters, spokeswoman Ute Wueest von Vellberg said by phone.

The European Commission said it carried out visits at the premises of several car manufacturers in Germany, accompanied by German antitrust officials. The inspections come days after BMW AG said it was raided as part of the same probe.

“The Volkswagen Group and the Group brands concerned have been cooperating fully and for a long time with the European Commission and have submitted a corresponding application” that might allow it to receive a reduction in any eventual fines, the company said in an email. “It is not yet clear whether the European Commission will instigate formal proceedings.”

RELATED: BMW raided in collusion probe as Daimler blows whistle to EU

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in September that her officials are checking whether “completely legal cooperation” between German car companies isn’t being confused with an illegal cartel. Her comments came after Germany’s Der Spiegel reported in July that talks on technical standards between Volkswagen AG, BMW and Daimler may have allowed them to collude on pricing.

EU regulators are concerned “that several German car manufacturers may have violated EU antitrust rules,” the EU said in an emailed statement. It didn’t name the companies visited.

BMW said it was raided last week, in an inspection the EU said it started on Oct. 16, as regulators step up a probe sparked earlier this year.

Reuters reported the Daimler visit earlier.

Inspections allow EU officials to gather evidence, armed with wide powers to collect documents and copy hard drives. Companies can be fined if they seek to obstruct an antitrust inspection that can eventually lead to large fines for participating in a cartel to curb competition.

Daimler reported a possible cartel as part of the EU’s leniency program that allows firms to dodge fines for being the first in line to report wrongdoing, Chief Financial Officer Bodo Uebber said last week, confirming previous press reports.

The three carmakers worked together on a wide range of technology including discussing the size of tanks for AdBlue, a liquid that helps neutralize pollutants in diesel exhaust, according to Der Spiegel.