Justice Department Prepping for Lawsuit Against Fiat Chrysler

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
justice department prepping for lawsuit against fiat chrysler

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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  • AVT AVT on May 18, 2017

    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.

    • See 6 previous
    • JimZ JimZ on May 19, 2017

      @Lorenzo 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.

  • AVT AVT on May 18, 2017

    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.

    • See 2 previous
    • AVT AVT on May 18, 2017

      @RobertRyan 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.

  • Dawn Maple They haven't even fixed the airbag issues and recalls completely, so why waste more time and money on another "safety feature" that removes choices from the driver? We would be safer getting in a car driven by Helen Keller. Oh wait with driver assist, all she has to do is find her car and turn it on.
  • Lorenzo I'm out. I'd never find it in the dark.
  • VoGhost Minivans don't sell well, and the market has been declining. And while the entire 'range anxiety' myth is mostly a big oil propaganda designed to scare the weak minded, minivans are often how families travel to grandma's house, so that will be a concern, unless VW can gain access to the Supercharger network. I could see 50K units at peak, declining to 25K/year after a couple of years, unless VW can price competitively with Tesla.
  • VoGhost Glad you're healthy, Tim
  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.