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JK Tyre, others firms face antitrust scrutiny in bid-rigging case

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NEW DELHI: Antitrust regulator is investigating JK Tyre & Industries Ltd after a state government accused the company of bid rigging, and the probe has been expanded to other firms, according to sources and legal filings seen by Reuters.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) last year ordered a probe after Haryana said JK Tyre employed unfair trade practices while bidding to supply tyres for public transport vehicles, a court filing showed.

The case details and CCI’s initial assessment were contained in a Sept. 19 state court filing made by JK Tyre contesting some of the watchdog’s demands. The filing, reviewed by Reuters, has not previously been reported and the CCI does not disclose current probes into cartel cases.

According to documents in the filing, Haryana state told the CCI that JK Tyre was the sole bidder in a tender and quoted high prices. The watchdog in November ordered a probe saying “non-participation by other tyre manufacturers” was suggestive of a “concerted act to rig the bid”.

A JK Tyre spokesman declined to comment “as the matter is currently subjudice.”

In August this year, the CCI decided the role of other tyre firms should be examined and expanded its scrutiny to include Apollo Tyres , CEAT , MRF , and the Indian units of France’s Michelin and Germany’s Continental AG , two sources familiar with the case said.

It was not immediately clear whether the CCI has approached those tyre firms with inquiries.

The sources declined to be identified as details of the probe were confidential. The CCI and the Haryana state government did not respond to requests for comments. MRF, Michelin and Continental also did not respond to requests for comments, while CEAT and Apollo declined to comment.

A finding of bid-rigging could lead to a potential fine of up to three times the profit in each year prices were fixed by the companies, or 10% of annual revenue, whichever is higher.

JK Tyre, which has a market value of $190 million, says it accounts for 30-36% of the market for different types of tyre variants that is worth some $9 billion annually.

“EMAIL DUMPS”

Haryana state has alleged JK Tyre was the sole bidder in the tender in 2018 and its prices were around 34% higher than previous purchase rates, the documents show.

“There appears to be some arrangement or understanding amongst the tyre manufacturers … The matter warrants a thorough and detailed investigation to unearth the entire modus operandi resorted to,” the CCI’s Nov. 2019 order said.

As part of the probe, the CCI this year sought “email dumps” over five years belonging to some senior executives in the JK group, saying they were essential for the investigation.

JK Tyre has challenged that demand at the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, saying it was cooperating with the investigation and the emails of those executives had limited or no relation to the case.

The watchdog’s probe team was “acting in a completely unreasonable, arbitrary and whimsical manner”, JK Tyre said in the Sept. 19 filing.

The court will next hear the case on Oct. 28.


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Ather Energy rolls out assured buyback scheme for e-scooter model

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Mumbai, Oct 20 () Electric vehicle maker Ather Energy on Tuesday rolled out an “assured” buyback scheme, the first of its kind in the domestic EV space, for its 450X e-scooter model, which is set to hit the road next month. Besides, the Bengaluru-based start up, which is 34.58 per cent owned by two-wheeler market leader Hero MotoCorp, also announced cutting prices of Ather 45Plus model by Rs 9,000.

Under the assured scheme, aimed at accelerating EV adoption in the country, Ather Energy will buy back Ather 450X e-scooter at Rs 85,000, at the end of three years, Tarun Mehta, co-founder and CEO, Ather Energy, said at a virtual press conference.

The company revised its subscription plans, offering more flexibility to customers, starting at Rs 125 per month.

Ather Energy has built its own li-ion battery packs and an overall robust platform in the Ather 450 product line.

The reliability of the product line has been tested since 2018 in Bengaluru and later in Chennai, and on seeing the high consistency in performance, Ather Energy has launched a unique buyback plan, the company said.

The high reliability of the product will ensure that the scooters will command a strong value in the resale market, as witnessed by existing owners of Ather 450, it added.

The revised subscription plans now offer four independent packs that the customer can choose from based on their usage–Connect Lite (for all basic connected features), Connect Pro, Service Lite (periodic maintenance, roadside assistance and labour) and Service Pro (premium service experience), according to the company.

Ather has also made the charging at public charging points, Ather Grid, free till March next year, Mehta said.

“Our faith in our product line has allowed us to create innovative solutions to make the switch to electric, easier – whether it is purchase or ownership. We believe Ather Energy’s electric scooters are going to have a fantastic value for years and will keep improving with new features which we will roll out as over the air upgrades. And to strengthen that assurance we are announcing a resale guarantee,” Mehta said.

Aside from the new buyback programme, Ather Energy has also improved some of the purchase enabling solutions for the launch of Ather 450X, it said, adding post the success of the lease model in Bengaluru and Chennai, the company will be extending the same for the Ather 450X across all cities.

The model allows the customers to access a fully loaded Ather 450X at a lower price point and a nominal monthly fee.

In the current economic context, this might be significant for a segment of customers who are unwilling to opt for a full purchase, Ather Energy said.

To reduce the overall cost of ownership of the 450X model, Bengaluru consumers can exchange their old petrol internal combustion engine-powered 2-wheeler and others can opt for low interest rate loans from multiple partners that the EV start up has tie-ups with, it said.

The revised price of Ather 450 Plus now stands at Rs 1,39,990 (ex-showroom) from Rs 1.49 lakh earlier, Ather Energy said.


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Mercedes-Benz to start local assembly of vehicle range AMG in India

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New Delhi: German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz on Tuesday said it will start local assembly of its performance vehicle range AMG in India. The first Mercedes-AMG product to roll out of the assembly line from Mercedes-Benz India’s plant at Chakan in Pune will be the AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe, the company said in a statement.

Mercedes-Benz India Managing Director and CEO Martin Schwenk said, “The decision to locally produce AMG in India underlines Mercedes-Benz’s clear road map for the Indian market and our long-term commitment to our Indian customers. We want AMG to be more accessible to the potential customers and play a bigger role in our overall portfolio we offer in India.”

He further said this decision is an important milestone towards strengthening the company’s AMG ambitions in India further.

The AMG brand over the years has become synonymous with performance motoring in India and remains highly aspirational, Schwenk said.

Mercedes-Benz’s performance sub-brand AMG has a wide portfolio of performance limousines, performance SUVs, SUV Coupes, and sports cars in India. The AMG brand has a dedicated retail presence through the AMG Performance Centres located across Indian metros.

On the decision to start with the local assembly of the AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe, he said it is an important model in the company’s portfolio having the distinction of being one of the highest selling AMG models in India.

“We are proud to introduce this dynamic SUV Coupe for our Indian customers now in its ‘made in India’ version. The addition of the stylish AMG GLC 43 Coupe will further cement our strong position in the performance SUV segment,” he said.

The company is confident that the launch of the locally produced AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe will drive in value and aspiration for customers and help the model retain its top preference among the discerning AMG customers, Schwenk said.

Till date, Mercedes-Benz India locally produces Mercedes Maybach S 560, S-Class, E-Class Long Wheelbase, CLA, C-Class and the GLA, GLC, GLC Coupe, long wheelbase GLE G350d and GLS luxury SUVs.

The company’s completely built imported cars portfolio includes the V-Class, CLS, C-Class Cabriolet, the G 350d, the EQC and the other products of the AMG range.


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TVS NTORQ 125 Avengers price: TVS Motor launches Marvel’s Avengers inspired scooter priced at Rs 77,865

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TVS Motor Company on Tuesday launched its Marvel’s Avengers inspired TVS NTORQ 125 SuperSquad Edition scooter priced at Rs 77,865 (ex-showroom Delhi). The company has associated with Disney India’s consumer products business to introduce the special SuperSquad edition, TVS Motor said in a regulatory filing. The special edition brings forth finer nuances associated with each Marvel Super Hero through the product design, it added.

“We have all had our favourite Super Hero, with whom we relate. We find ways to celebrate this relationship. The TVS NTORQ 125 SuperSquad Edition, gives new expression to this ageless fascination,” TVS Motor Company Vice President (Marketing) – Commuter Motorcycles, Scooters and Corporate Brand Aniruddha Haldar said.

The scooter will have the SuperSquad logo and the iconic Avengers’ ‘A’ prominently placed on the front panel, leg shield, and below the speedometer. The scooter is powered by a 125 cc engine. The company further said its TVS Connect App of the SuperSquad Edition is powered by SmartXonnect and will come with a customised user interface inspired by the Avengers’ characters.


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