A broadening probe of price fixing among auto suppliers has ensnared a Swedish company, Autoliv Inc., which agreed to pay a $14.5-million fine for conspiring to manipulate the price of seat belts, air bags and steering wheels, the Department of Justice said.
In addition, an executive at Japanese supplier Yazaki accepted a 14-month term in federal prison for fixing prices on auto wiring components.
The actions were the latest in a string of fines and jail terms doled out by the nation's top law enforcement agency as it investigates what it called a multiyear, multi-continent conspiracy to control prices in a specialized auto parts market worth billions.
To date, the Justice Department inquiry has resulted in some $750 million in fines from six companies, along with jail sentences from eight individuals, including the Yazaki executive, Kazuhiko Kashimoto. The investigation, launched in 2010, is in collaboration with regulators in Europe and Japan.
Autoliv conspired to set "noncompetitive" prices for important safety components sold to U.S. and foreign automakers from 2006 to 2011, according to the agency complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Detroit. The Stockholm company operates in 29 countries and has nearly 50,000 employees worldwide.
Kashimoto, working as a Yazaki representative in Ohio, helped fix prices for electrical connectors called wiring harnesses that were sold to Honda Motor Co. from 2000 to 2007, the complaint said. As was the case with other executives involved in the conspiracy, Kashimoto engaged in secret conversations with executives of other suppliers to coordinate prices on crucial parts, the Justice Department said.
Prison terms for others have been for as long as two years.
The price-fixing investigation, which is continuing, is one of the largest in history. It has sparked numerous civil lawsuits from other auto parts suppliers that believe they may have been materially affected by the price manipulation.