DOJ launches antitrust probe over California emissions deal with automakers

The Justice Department has reportedly launched an antitrust investigation into four automakers that defied the Trump administration in signing a deal with California on vehicle emissions standards.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the situation, said DOJ lawyers are looking at whether Ford Motor, Honda Motor, BMW and Volkswagen “violated federal competition law by agreeing with each other to follow tailpipe-emissions standards beyond those proposed by the Trump administration.”

Ford confirmed in an emailed statement that it’s been contacted by DOJ on the matter.

“We have received a letter from the Department of Justice and will cooperate with respect to any inquiry,” the company said. The DOJ declined to comment.

Volkswagen declined to comment on the investigation, saying that it’s in regular contact with U.S. authorities. BMW and Honda didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The deal between the automakers and the nation’s largest vehicle market in the U.S. was announced in July. The deal included relaxed standards instead of a freeze to the Obama administration’s rules — something most major automakers have supported.

No major automakers has supported a freeze of the Obama-era standards, although many have supported a reevaluation of the rules to address current market conditions of lower gas prices, all-electric vehicles and increased sales of trucks and SUVs.

Abiding by California’s rules is good business for the automakers. The state accounts for about 12% of U.S. vehicle sales. Not selling there and other states that adhere to California’s regulations would be detrimental to business.

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