BRUSSELS – The German auto industry could be facing fines totaling €50 billion ($58.3 billion) from European antitrust authorities investigating allegations of a long-running cartel, experts say.

With Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz manufacturer Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen all being investigated on allegations they were neck-deep in a collusion deal dubbed “Das Kartell,” the resulting fines could prompt a permanent change in how German automakers work, one industry-watcher says.

If found guilty, each automaker could be fined up to 30% of worldwide revenues –  and that is just from the EU antitrust authority, the European Commission’s competition directorate general. U.S. regulators also likely will take a dim view of any cartels involving vehicles on the North American market.

Moreover, EU law allows any individual or company hit by anticompetitive behavior to sue the offenders for damages in national courts. An EC finding that companies participated in a cartel would serve as binding proof for courts in the EU’s 28 member states awarding damages.

BMW alone is facing a €10 billion ($11.6 billion) fine and Volkswagen up to €22 billion ($25.5 billion), based on their revenues. But with VW joining Daimler in turning whistleblower, both could see the fines waived or significantly reduced.

The EC, the EU’s executive branch, habitually waives or slashes fines against companies that turn themselves in and admit to participating in a cartel. The first to blow the whistle on the cartel tends to get a 100% leniency waiver, while others that admit to taking part get at least 10% knocked off their fines. Further reductions are possible depending on the timing of their cooperation and the extent to which the evidence they provide helps the EC prove the cartel’s existence.

The result, says Professor Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management, an independent research institute at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, is that while these fines and penalties could be harsher than any ever faced by the German auto sector, he does not see any takeovers or closures resulting.

“I don’t think that these car cartel allegations will change more or less the path of the auto industry,” he tells WardsAuto.

But what Bratzel does forecast is potential change in “the culture of cooperation” between automakers.

“Cooperation can be in the interests of customers,” he says, but adds, “Carmakers have to see when they are cooperating that it is within the law. Maybe (the cartel investigation) leads to more transparency in the way of cooperating.”