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4 more auto suppliers settle lawsuits over price fixing

Four more auto-parts suppliers agreed to pay $30 million in consumer settlements — with one paying an additional $5.9 million to U.S. dealerships — as part of class-action lawsuits that sprung from a massive U.S. antitrust price-fixing investigation.

Aisin Seiki Co., which ranks No. 7 on Automotive News’ list of the top global suppliers of parts to automakers, agreed to pay $24.5 million in settlements. Aisin, of Kariya, Japan, will pay $18.6 million to U.S. consumers and $5.9 million to dealerships, the company said Friday in a statement posted on its Japanese-language website.

German supplier Schaeffler AG, No. 22 on Automotive News’ list of the top global suppliers, agreed earlier in the week to the next-largest settlement payment to consumers: $7.6 million.

In lawsuits filed against the Japanese company and its U.S. subsidiary, Aisin Automotive Casting, plaintiffs said they purchased overpriced vehicles, in part because Aisin fixed prices on variable valve timing devices sold to automakers.

Many of the individual plaintiffs combined their cases into two suits — which accused suppliers of fixing original parts and thus driving up the prices of new vehicles. In December 2015, the consolidated civil suits were filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit: One suit for the dealerships and one for the consumers.

Japanese supplier G.S. Electech Inc., which supplies electrical parts such as speed sensor wire assemblies, agreed to pay $3.04 million to consumers earlier this week. The company pleaded guilty to antitrust violations in May 2012 and paid a fine to the federal government at that time of $2.75 million.

A G.S. Electech executive, Shingo Okuda, also plead guilty in July 2014 and was sentenced to 13 months in U.S. prison for his part in fixing the price of auto parts used in antilock brake systems. He was fined $20,000.

The third Japanese supplier to settle this week was Tokai Rika Co., which will pay $760,000 to consumers. In October 2012, the supplier of control stalks, power window and steering switches and more, pleaded guilty to price fixing.

Tokai Rika was also the first company accused of destroying evidence and was fined $17.7 million. $589 million

To date, settlements from the lawsuits total about $589 million.

These are the latest of the 23 accused suppliers to settle civil lawsuits stemming from the largest antitrust case in U.S. history with investigations reaching back to 2011. While investigations followed Denso Corp. and the companies it did business with, Denso, whose North American headquarters is in Southfield, remained at the center of it all, as it was alleged to be the most culpable player in the antitrust investigation because of its power as one of the largest and most connected global suppliers.

In January 2012, Denso plead guilty to violating the U.S. Antitrust laws and paid a $78 million fine. In July, Denso agreed to pay $255 million in its settlements with dealerships and consumers.

Aisin pleaded guilty in November 2014 to fixing prices of its variable valve timing devices and paid a fine of $35.8 million for its part in violating antitrust laws.

An ongoing investigation into the price-fixing and bid-rigging scandal by the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI has led to 46 companies and 64 executives charged and fined more than $2.8 billion, the department said in August.

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