By on May 18, 2017

2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE, Image: FCA

The U.S. Justice Department is preparing itself for a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over, you guessed it, diesel-burning engines. Cetane-rated fuel has been a broad target for governments lately, but the forthcoming FCA suit is less concerned with what you’re burning than with how you’re burning it.

Officials are concerned the automaker may have used a defeat device after the Environmental Protection Agency accused it of using software that allowed about 104,000 diesel vehicles to emit excess emissions. The models in question are 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-liter diesel engines.

Despite studies suggesting other manufacturers being involved in emissions cheating is a statistical likelihood, FCA has maintained it is not another Volkswagen.

“In the case of any litigation, FCA US will defend itself vigorously, particularly against any claims that the company deliberately installed defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests,” Fiat Chrysler said in a statement. “The company believes that any litigation would be counterproductive to ongoing discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.”

Fiat Chrysler has entered negotiations with the regulators and has admitted it was subpoenaed by federal and state authorities, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, for access to data. If it can reach an agreement soon, the civil suit will be avoided. But it will have to be very soon. According to Reuters, regulatory sources are geared up to ditch diplomacy and commit to legal action any day now.

The United States has been preparing a potential complaint ahead of an initial hearing for separate lawsuits. A federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has set a May 24th hearing date for a series of lawsuits filed by owners of affected vehicles. It’s believed the Justice Department will move forward with its actions if no agreement is reached with FCA by that date. The EPA has stated the maximum possible fine that could be levied against FCA is $4.6 billion — $44,539 per vehicle.

The automaker has said it may have erred by not disclosing software contained in the vehicles, but insists the devices are not malicious or related to any emissions trickery. However, regulators have stated that nondisclosure is already a violation of the Clean Air Act. Fiat Chrysler has been trying to obtain EPA certification for 2017 model year diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500, but the regulator has held off in light of the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, the European Commission told Italy it took “insufficient action” in ensuring FCA-built diesels adhered to present-day emission requirements. The German transport ministry also accused FCA of installing defeat devices on the Fiat 500X before abandoning the mediation process, leaving the end point of the European diesel flap as one big question mark.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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15 Comments on “Justice Department Prepping for Lawsuit Against Fiat Chrysler...”

  • avatar

    A setback for connoisseurs of little diesels.

    • 0 avatar
      Add Lightness

      Only in N/A is 3 liter considered ‘little’

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, that’s true. I’m just thankful for the choices we have in N/A. I’m a firm believer in being able to buy whatever each of us wants.

        The smallest engine I have is a 2.5L V6 in my 1989 Camry, and it is ample for a car of that size and weight without being tinny or squirrelly. Not much good for anything else, though.

        Mandates and CAFE requirements have put the kibosh on respectable engines in N/A cars and trucks. Another form of mass-behavioral change and reindoctrination of the automotive enthusiasts’ minds into believing that “smaller is better.”

  • avatar

    I doubt the EPA will levy the max fine. First, FCA is showing intent to fix it’s mistake. Second, they did not cover it up. Basically the opposite of VWAG. Also, if they do indeed find a fix, it should be easier to implement since they do have DEF fluid tanks unlike the early model VW and audis. Also, the number of diesels sold by FCA in comparing to just VW alone is massive. Looking back through the articles, it appears that FCA intended these “emission cheats” to operate mainly in warm up and cold weather situations. Likely to improve engine reliability and longevity. While I’m not certified to judge if they are right or wrong on this, I will stand by my belief that FCA did not intend any harm/deception to the extent and duration that VWAG did. I also doubt their will be as large an impact on sales and brand perception.

    • 0 avatar

      Like you, I’m not certified to judge either, but this is the internet where nobody knows you’re a dog with an opinion. I’ve talked to my crusty old independent mechanic who works on diesels, and he mentioned the emissions were going to kill the diesel.

      When I asked why, he said there were times when they had to run rich, defeating the emissions measures, because the fuel also served as an engine lubricant. You could meet the emissions and wear out the engine prematurely, or vice-versa, but not the best of both.

      I don’t know if that’s true, but I asked one mechanic I trust. Maybe someone here knows more about the lubricating properties of diesel fuel?

      • 0 avatar

        This is true. Especially with the older diesel engines. I’m not sure how much this applies with newer diesel engines given the tighter tolerances and such. Given how pulling the engine management computer in most cars will cause them to run in a richer less fuel efficient state, I’d guess your mechanic is at the very least, partly correct.

        • 0 avatar

          While older (mechanical injection pump) diesels may have relied on the fuel’s lubricity I’m not sure the newer ones are as sensitive. Which is good, because only older diesel fuel had much lubricity. When the US switched to ULSD about 10-11 years ago the desulfurization process stripped much of the lubricity out of the fuel. There may be additives in it to restore some of that, but the latest diesel fuel isn’t as lubricating as it used to be.

          Emissions-controlled diesels with a particulate filter have to run rich periodically to burn the accumulated soot out of the filter, but that’s an industry-standard practice the EPA tolerates because getting the particulates out of the exhaust is worth the trade-off.

          Diesels typically run lean at very high compression ratios. High pressure and temperature with an excess of air is what creates oxides of nitrogen, which are what is at issue with all of the defeat devices. Running rich means there is not an excess of air and therefore less oxygen will form NOx.

          The DEF (urea) injection is supposed to scrub the NOx from the exhaust. I think DEF has to temporarily disable for the DPF to clean out. Manufacturers want the DEF tank to last as long as possible with minimal size (or to get by without DEF) so that’s where the alleged cheats come in, by disabling or minimizing the NOx-reducing operating regime when they might ought not be disabled.

          • 0 avatar

            I think that’s why Cummings inline 6’s don’t use Def like other HD manufacturers. Since it’s a 6 instead of an 8, it tends to run harder at lower speeds compared to the others. This means more heat, and heat basically cleans the exhaust systems for diesels. Also probably why they get the lowest real world mpg. Running rich more often than the others.

          • 0 avatar

            “I think that’s why Cummings inline 6’s don’t use Def like other HD manufacturers. ”

            Not correct. 2013 and up 6.7L engines use DEF.

          • 0 avatar

            “I think that’s why Cummings inline 6’s don’t use Def like other HD manufacturers. Since it’s a 6 instead of an 8, it tends to run harder at lower speeds compared to the others. This means more heat, and heat basically cleans the exhaust systems for diesels. Also probably why they get the lowest real world mpg. Running rich more often than the others.”

            every single thing you said here is wrong.

      • 0 avatar

        the only thing the fuel lubricates is the injection pump (in older engines) or the high-pressure fuel pump. By the time it enters the cylinder, it’s already rapidly being turned into CO2 and soot. it does not lubricate the engine at all.

  • avatar

    I am intrigued to see if anything will ever come out of the inline 6 Cummings emissions. I know for a while now that they have had a legal battle regarding their emissions especially on previous models. I believe it was back in the 2000’s that the Detroit 3 all got their hands slapped with emissions from their HD truck engines.

    • 0 avatar

      Very different standards for heavy duty diesels and light duty diesels.

      • 0 avatar

        VW sells a massive number of diesels worldwide

        • 0 avatar

          True, part of the reason I said the impact to FCA will be far less when compared to VW. I wonder if the 3.0 diesel sold in Europe in some FCA products will also get pulled in. From my understanding, it’s the same engine, but since Europe has different emission standards, I don’t know if they will find it bad enough.

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