China's antitrust regulator on Thursday announced its first-ever punishment of foreign carmakers for price-fixing, fining Volkswagen AG and Fiat's Chrysler a combined $46 million.
The penalty raised the possibility of similar fines being levied against other global players, such as Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Tata Motor Ltd's Jaguar Land Rover, which are being probed for possible anti-competitive behavior.
The Shanghai Municipal Development and Reform Commission said in a statement it would fine Chrysler's China sales unit 32 million yuan ($5.22 million) for operating a price monopoly.
The price regulator in Hubei province announced it would fine the sales unit of FAW-Volkswagen Automobile Co Ltd, one of Volkswagen's two China car-making ventures, 249 million yuan for price-fixing at its Audi sales unit.
Three Chrysler dealers in Shanghai and eight Audi dealers in Hubei also will be fined, the regulators said.
Punishment for Chrysler and Audi had been widely expected as the National Development and Reform Commission previously said it concluded that the two carmakers had broken the anti-monopoly law.
Audi has admitted to "partially" breaching the rules.
An array of industries has come under the spotlight as China intensifies efforts to bring companies into compliance with its Antitrust Law, which was enacted in 2008.
Last month, China fined 12 Japanese auto-parts makers a record 1.235 billion yuan for manipulating prices.
The automobile sector has been under particular scrutiny, and the NDRC has been investigating the industry amid accusations by State media that global carmakers overcharge consumers.
China's car sales growth decelerated in August to 8.5 percent, while sales of SUVs surged by nearly one-third.
Drivers in the world's biggest automobile market by vehicle sales bought 1.5 million passenger cars in August, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said on Thursday. Total sales, including trucks and buses, rose 4 percent to 1.7 million vehicles.
Global automakers are looking to China to drive global sales, but growth has slowed steadily as the world's No 2 economy cooled from double-digit rates of expansion. Auto sales growth declined from 13.9 percent in May to June's 11.5 percent and to 9.7 percent in July.
The market share of domestic brands eroded further in August under intense pressure from US, European and Asian brands that are spending heavily to appeal to local tastes.
Sales of Chinese-branded passenger vehicles grew by 5.7 percent, while those of German, Japanese and American brands increased by 21.6 percent, 15.1 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Chinese brands' share of the market declined by 1 percentage point to 37.1 percent.
The standout vehicle category was that of sport utility vehicles. SUV sales rose 30 percent to 311,000 vehicles. That compared with 35.3 percent growth for the first seven months of the year.
Earlier, General Motors Co said sales of GM vehicles by the company and its local partners rose 14 percent to 280,178 vehicles. The company said it was a new August record and the third-best month this year. For the first eight months of the year, sales rose 11.1 percent to 2.3 million vehicles.