Risks from guarantees, legal and tax risks
The Group continues to be exposed to risks from guarantees as well as legal risks and tax risks. Provisions are recognized for those risks if and insofar as they are likely to be utilized and the amounts of the obligations can be reasonably estimated. No quantitative assessment of these risks is carried out.
Risks from guarantees
Issuing guarantees results in liability risks for the Group. For example, Daimler holds an equity interest in the system for recording and charging tolls for the use of highways in Germany, which includes fees for the use of autobahns and selected federal highways, by commercial vehicles. The operation of the electronic toll-collection system is the responsibility of the operator company, Toll Collect GmbH, in which Daimler holds a 45 % stake and which is included in the consolidated financial statements using the equity method of accounting. In addition to Daimler’s membership of the Toll Collect consortium and its equity interest in Toll Collect GmbH, risks also arise from guarantees that Daimler Financial Services AG has assumed with the other partners in the Toll Collect consortium (Deutsche Telekom AG and Cofiroute S.A.) supporting obligations of Toll Collect GmbH toward the Federal Republic of Germany. These guarantees are connected with the toll system and a call option of the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e. the possibility of the Federal Republic of Germany to take over the shares in Toll Colect GmbH. Claims could be made under those guarantees if toll revenue is lost for technical reasons, if certain contractually defined performance parameters are not fulfilled, if additional claims are made by the Federal Republic of Germany, if the final operating permit is not granted, if Toll Collect GmbH fails to meet contractual obligations, if it fails to have the required equipment available, or if the Federal Republic of Germany takes over Toll Collect GmbH. The maximum loss risk for the Group from these risks can be substantial. Additional information is provided in Note 29 (Legal proceedings) and Note 30 (Financial guarantees, contingent liabilities and other financial commitments) of the Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Various legal proceedings, claims and government investigations (legal proceedings) are pending against Daimler AG and its subsidiaries on a wide range of topics, including vehicle safety, emissions, fuel economy, financial services, dealer, supplier and other contractual relationships, intellectual property rights, warranty claims, environmental matters, legal proceedings relating to competition law and shareholder litigation. Product-related litigation involves claims alleging faults in vehicles, some of which have been made as class actions. If the outcome of such legal proceedings is detrimental to Daimler, the Group may be required to pay substantial compensatory and punitive damages or to undertake service actions, recall campaigns, monetary penalties or other costly actions. Some of these legal proceedings may have an impact on the Group’s reputation.
The automotive industry is subject to extensive governmental regulations worldwide. Laws in various jurisdictions regulate occupant safety and the environmental impact of vehicles, including emission levels, fuel economy and noise, as well as the pollutants generated by the plants where vehicles are produced. Noncompliance with regulations applicable in the different regions could result in significant penalties and reputational harm or the inability to sell vehicles in the relevant markets. The cost of compliance with these regulations is significant, and in this context, Daimler expects a significant increase in such costs.
Currently, Daimler is subject to governmental information requests, inquiries and investigations as well as litigation relating to environmental, securities, criminal and other laws and regulations in connection with diesel exhaust emissions. Several federal and state authorities, including in Europe and the United States, have inquired about and are investigating test results, the emission control systems used in Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles and Daimler’s interaction with the relevant federal and state authorities as well as related legal issues and implications, including, but not limited to, under applicable environmental, securities and criminal laws. These authorities include, among others, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), which has requested that Daimler conduct an internal investigation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) and other state authorities as well as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Daimler has also offered its cooperation to the Stuttgart district attorney’s office and provided information to it, and has comprehensively responded to the diesel emissions committee of inquiry of the German Parliament. Daimler is fully cooperating with the authorities. Irrespective of such cooperation by Daimler with the authorities, it is possible that civil and criminal investigative and enforcement actions and measures relating to Daimler and/or its employees will be taken, such as subpoenass, i.e. legal instructions issued under penalty of law in the process of taking evidence, or other requests for documentation, testimony or other information, a notice of violation or an increased formalization of the governmental proceedings. Additionally, delays in obtaining regulatory approvals necessary to introduce new or recertify existing diesel models could occur. In light of the recent notices of violation that were issued by US environmental authorities to another vehicle manufacturer in January of 2017, identifying functionalities, apparently including functionalities that are common in diesel vehicles, as undisclosed Auxiliary Emission Control Devices (AECDs) and potentially impermissible, and in light of the ongoing governmental information requests, inquiries and investigations, and our own internal investigation, it cannot be ruled out that the authorities might reach the conclusion that Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles have similar functionalities. The inquiries and investigations as well as the replies to the governmental information requests and our internal investigation are still ongoing and open; hence, Daimler cannot predict the outcome at this time. If these or other inquiries, investigations, legal actions and/or proceedings result in unfavorable findings, an unfavorable outcome or otherwise develop unfavorably, Daimler could be subject to significant monetary penalties, remediation requirements, vehicle recalls, process improvements and mitigation measures, and/or other sanctions, measures and actions, including further investigations by these or other authorities and additional litigations. The occurrence of the aforementioned events in whole or in part could cause significant collateral damage including reputational harm. In addition, Daimler’s ability to defend itself in litigations could be impaired by unfavorable findings, results or developments in any of the governmental information requests, inquiries, investigations, legal actions and proceedings discussed above. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that the risks discussed above may materially adversely impact our profitability, cash flows and financial situation.
As legal proceedings are fraught with a large degree of uncertainty, it is possible that after their final resolution, some of the provisions we have recognized for them could prove to be insufficient. As a result, substantial additional expenditures may arise. This also applies to legal proceedings for which the Group has seen no requirement to recognize a provision.
Although the final result of any such litigation may influence the Group’s earnings and cash flows in any particular period, Daimler believes that any resulting obligations are unlikely to have a sustained effect on the Group’s cash flows, financial position or profitability. Further information on legal proceedings is provided in Note 29 of the Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements.
Daimler AG and its subsidiaries operate in many countries worldwide and are therefore subject to numerous different statutory provisions and tax audits. Any changes in legislation and jurisdiction, as well as different interpretations of the law by the fiscal authorities - especially in the field of cross-border transactions, may be subject to considerable uncertainty. It is therefore possible that established provisions will not be sufficient, which could have negative effects on the Group’s net profit and cash flows.
Any changes or interventions by the fiscal authorities are continuously monitored by the tax department and measures are taken if required.