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Associated Press
A child touches the latest model from Mercedes at an auto show in Beijing. Chinese regulators have launched anti-monopoly investigations of foreign automakers.

China's regulators probe foreign luxury car brands

BEIJING – Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday that Chinese anti-monopoly regulators are looking at its Lexus luxury unit in a spreading investigation of foreign automakers.

The company is “cooperating fully with the queries from the authorities on Lexus,” Toyota spokesman Naoki Sumino said in Tokyo. He declined to give details.

Authorities said this week that Audi, which is Volkswagen AG’s luxury unit, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Chrysler brand would be punished for unspecified anti-monopoly violations. Mercedes-Benz, the luxury brand of Daimler AG, has said it is under scrutiny and a government spokesman said regulators are looking at 12 Japanese companies in the auto industry.

Regulators have not disclosed the basis of their investigation. But customers complain prices of imported luxury vehicles and replacement parts are too expensive. Luxury cars in China can cost up to three times the price charged in the United States or Europe.

In an apparent effort to force down consumer prices, regulators have launched investigations of foreign auto, technology, pharmaceutical and dairy companies over the past two years using a 2008 anti-monopoly law.

Audi, Chrysler and Mercedes announced pre-emptive price cuts of up to 38 percent for vehicles or replacement parts.

Another luxury automaker, BMW AG, lowered vehicle prices but has not confirmed whether it is under investigation.

The investigations are fueling unease among foreign companies that complain Beijing uses regulatory measures to hamper them and promote potential Chinese competitors in violation of its free-trade commitments.

Business groups welcomed the 2008 law as a step toward clarifying operating conditions in China. Since then, they have said it is enforced more actively against foreign companies than against their Chinese rivals.

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