German's major automakers were accused in a U.S. lawsuit of acting as a cartel, colluding for nearly two decades to limit the pace of technological advances in their vehicles and stifle competition -- allegations that widen the scope of the latest scandal to hit the nation's auto industry.

BMW AG, Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and its Audi and Porsche brands shared competitive information about vehicle technologies with one another from 1996 through at least 2015 in violation of antitrust laws, according to a complaint filed Friday in San Francisco federal court.

"These coordinated actions enabled the manufacturer defendants -- the self-named `Fünfer-Kreise,' or Circle of Five -- to impose a German automobile premium on consumers premised on superior German engineering, while secretly stunting incentives to innovate," the suit alleges.

The suit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of U.S. drivers, says the companies agreed to limit the development of vehicle systems, including emissions control. The arrangement allegedly led to the development of so-called "defeat devices" used by Volkswagen to cheat on pollution tests.


The suit filed Friday is the second in the U.S. to allege the anti-competitive actions by the companies. Drivers filed a similar class-action suit in New Jersey federal court on Tuesday alleging German automakers created an anti-competitive culture in the U.S. and conspired over 20 years to increase prices of luxury vehicles while sharing technology to skirt emissions norms.

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