DETROIT (Aug. 29, 10:30 a.m. ET) — A Japanese auto supplier of fuel gauges, speedometers and instrument clusters has become the eighth company to plead guilty in a widening federal crackdown on automotive supplier price-fixing.
Nagaoka, Japan-based Nippon Seiki Co. Ltd., which houses its NS International Ltd. headquarters in suburban Detroit, will pay $1 million and plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, in a deal disclosed today with the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
The criminal information sheet released by the U.S. Department of Justice today states only that the company conspired with others on the prices of “instrument panel clusters sold to an automobile manufacturer in the United States and elsewhere.”
Nippon Seiki is 6.55 percent owned by Honda Motor Co. and makes gauges for motorcycles and snowmobiles, as well as cars. It has been a supplier to General Motors Co. in recent years for displays in the Chevrolet Corvette, Pontiac Grand Prix and Cadillac XLR and STS. It supplies Honda with panel clusters for the Elysion and Legend, according to its subsidiary Web site.
John Clough, director and secretary of NS International, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Justice alleges that Nippon Seiki conspired to stabilize and maintain prices on instrument panel clusters from at least April 2008 until February 2010. Previous federal court disclosures have indicated the larger auto price-fixing conspiracy under global investigation lasted from about January 2000 to February 2010, when a handful of companies were raided in Southeast Michigan and Japan.
Nippon Seiki agreed to cooperate with the federal investigation as a condition of the plea, which is still subject to court approval.
“For nearly two years, Nippon Seiki conspired to sell instrument control panels at collusive and noncompetitive prices, affecting the prices of many automobiles sold in the United States,” said Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program. “The division will continue to hold companies accountable for these types of anticompetitive practices that harm American consumers.”
The company joins seven others and 11 executives to be charged in the U.S. in the price-fixing and bid-rigging investigation, with fines totaling more than $791 million.
Pleading guilty and accepting fines to date are Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. ($200 million), Denso Corp. ($78 million), G.S. Electech Inc. ($2.75 million), Fujikura Ltd. ($20 million) and Autoliv Inc. ($14.5 million). TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH, a German unit of TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., reached a similar agreement with Justice to pay $5.1 million but has yet to enter its plea in court.
Seven executives from a handful of the companies — Junichi Funo, Hirotsugu Nagata, Tetsuya Ukai, Tsuneaki Hanamura, Ryoki Kawai, Shigeru Ogawa and Hisamitsu Takada — were sentenced to criminal fines and prison sentences ranging from a year and a day to two years.
Makoto Hattori and Norihiro Imai have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Kazuhiko Kashimoto and Toshio Sudo have also agreed to plead guilty at U.S. District Court in Detroit within the next several weeks.