ESB has launched legal action against four of the world's biggest truck manufacturers over their involvement in price fixing that, ESB will allege, pushed up the cost of the distinctive yellow trucks in the semi-State company's fleet.
The company has filed High Court proceedings against nine international entities associated with the truck manufacturers Volvo, DAF, Iveco and Daimler. The truck companies were fined more than €2.9 billion by the European Commission in 2016 after they were found to be involved in a cartel that fixed the prices of trucks. Swedish manufacturer MAN escaped punishment after it revealed the existence of the cartel to the commission.
The revelation of their cartel behaviour has provoked a legal backlash against the manufacturers across Europe in recent years, with scores of cases launched against them by truck buyers in various countries seeking compensation for violations of competition law.
In the UK, for example, the manufacturers are facing a group action pursued on the logistics industry's behalf by the Road Haulage Association, which is seeking payouts for business that bought or leased trucks from 1997 to 2011, the years covered by the commission's cartel finding.
In Ireland close to 60 such cases were filed against the manufacturers and also, in many cases, against their local Irish distributors and sales agents.
ESB, however, has filed cases only against the international divisions of the manufacturers themselves and not against any local operators.
The swathe of Irish cases outstanding against the truck companies were filed in 2017 by haulage companies seeking redress for allegedly paying over the odds, as well as punitive damages and compensation under the Competition Act. Some of the cases appear to have been discontinued or settled in December 2017, but the bulk were put on the court’s commercial list and remain live.
The European Court of Justice has previously ruled that truck buyers can sue the manufacturers in domestic courts arising from the findings of the European Commission cartel case. Following a mention in the High Court in October 2019, it was expected that the cases would come to trial last year but a date has not yet been set.
ESB, meanwhile, is only at the early stages of its legal cases against the truck companies, who supplied some of the larger vehicles in ESB Networks’ fleet of about 2,700 vehicles, most of which are yellow vans that are not the subject of the allegations in the truck case.
The electricity company is the first State entity and also the first company outside of the core logistics industry to sue the truck manufacturers over the European price-fixing findings. Up to now the majority of cases filed in Ireland were by hauliers or van rental businesses.
ESB declined to comment on the legal cases.