By on May 23, 2017

2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE, Image: FCA

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, alleging the automaker violated the Clean Air Act.

At the root of the lawsuit is roughly 104,000 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles equipped with the 3.0-liter diesel V6, sold between 2014 and 2016. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency accused FCA of failing to disclose eight auxiliary emissions control devices during the certification process. The vehicle’s software allows for higher-than-permitted emissions at certain times.

Despite FCA’s protests — as well as attempts to head off a potential multi-billion-dollar fine — the parallels between this case and Volkswagen’s emissions saga are growing by the day.

The EPA called the automaker’s failure to reveal the emissions software a “serious violation of the Clean Air Act,” and, as we’ve seen with VW, the penalties for such an infraction can be enormous. In FCA’s case, it could face a fine totaling $4.6 billion. The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the issue in January.

In its suit, the DOJ claims the software contained within the diesel SUVs and trucks means the vehicles do not reflect “the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications, and thus the cars are uncertified, in violation of the Clean Air Act.” The nature of how the unapproved emissions software functions means it fits the definition of a “defeat device.”

While the vehicles behave normally during testing, they emit higher-than-legal levels of smog-causing nitrogen oxide in normal driving conditions, the DOJ claims.

FCA has remained in talks with environmental regulators ever since the EPA leveled its accusation, but it became clear last week that a federal lawsuit was nearly inevitable. Last Friday, with a lawsuit looming, FCA attempted to certify its sidelined 2017 model year EcoDiesel models. The automaker filed an application with the EPA and California Air Resources Board seeking emissions certification, declaring the vehicles contained “updated emissions software calibrations.”

Once approved, the updated calibration would be offered free of charge to owners of existing EcoDiesel models. “FCA US believes this will address the agencies’ concerns regarding the emissions software calibrations in those vehicles,” the automaker said in a statement last week.

Fiat Chrysler has issued a statement regarding the lawsuit:

FCA US has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for many months, including extensive testing of the vehicles, to clarify issues related to the Company’s emissions control technology in model-year (MY) 2014-2016 Jeep® Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles.

FCA US is currently reviewing the complaint, but is disappointed that the DOJ-ENRD has chosen to file this lawsuit. The Company intends to defend itself vigorously, particularly against any claims that the Company engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.

The automaker went on to describe its updated emissions software, which it believes will not impact fuel efficiency or performance. “Notwithstanding this lawsuit, the Company remains committed to working cooperatively with EPA and CARB to resolve the agencies’ concerns quickly and amicably,” FCA stated.
[Sources: Reuters; The Detroit News] [Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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32 Comments on “Justice Department Sues Fiat Chrysler over Diesel ‘Defeat Devices’...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    has anybody- EPA or other group- done what ICCT did and drive around one of these with a portable gas analyzer? by now you’d think we’d have at least *some* numbers to show how far out of compliance they supposedly are.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I would assume so. Otherwise, they’d have a tough time knowing about the increased emissions. I know the EPA owns in-car analyzers, I’ve seen them driving around my area. (I live relatively near an EPA lab, and I can’t think of any other reason, besides suicide, for somebody to be driving around town with tubes going from the tailpipe to inside the car.0

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Right now it’s looking like the charges are based simply on the presence of undisclosed AECDs. Which is itself a violation. Could be the .gov is saying “these are here, you didn’t tell us about them, so we assume you use them and are non-compliant.” And since this is a civil suit, FCA bears some burden of proving their innocence.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      Its worse, a group of researchers at UCSD developed techniques to specifically detect defeat devices which are looking for “car is not in test, change parameters”. They were not only able to find the VW ones but also discovered the Fiat/Chrysler ones.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    “the parallels between this case and Volkswagen’s emissions saga are growing by the day.”

    Nicely done.

    • 0 avatar
      MLS

      Am I missing something? What is particularly “nicely done” about that sentence?

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        MLS,

        When the VW saga began to unwind, there were plenty of ttac’s B&B who commented that VW was not the only one cheating. No one could prove it at the time, nor did they want to.

        What is nicely done about that sentence is that Steph manages to distill all the “told you so’s” into a palatable humble pie for all the nay-sayers.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    Somehow I kinda doubt the stuff ends up hitting the fan like it did with VW. Bigger manufacturing presence in the US equals bigger clout in Washington. I would expect some punches to be pulled right or wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I agree. Selective prosecution will rule the day.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Cooperation with EPA and CARB will go a long ways towards mitigating any fines or other sanctions. Half of VW’s problem was being dismissive and contemptuous of the two.

    • 0 avatar
      caltemus

      This is exactly what happened with the Harley-Davidson Screaming Eagle emissions defeat devices. It was not widely publicized nor receive much negative press; definitely not anything like the vitriol hurled at VW

  • avatar
    FOG

    Resistance is futile. You must be assimilated. Diesel is bad, Gasoline is bad. All ICE drive trains must die. Switch to electricity because it is “Magic”. It isn’t like coal is burned and creates huge amounts of pollution to charge batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      Plus the electric car salesman gives out free moneys!

    • 0 avatar
      habib

      Depends heavily on where you live. Washington and Oregon have 2 (smaller) coal plants between them, both being shuttered in 2020.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      Yup, the #1 local pollutant is coal, not cars. Cars and trucks are so minor a pollutant that smog is a non-issue worldwide except around coal plants.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      Every year, less coal is burned for electricity. Also, old coal plants are reaching the end of their economic lifespans and are being replaced with less expensive natural gas and renewable generators.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Cars made in the new millennium really don’t contribute a whole lot to smog comparably. Pretty much any new car you go and buy has very advanced emissions equipment under the hood.

        The problem is older vehicles, especially older diesels. They have a lot to do with Europe’s smog, for example.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        Older Coal plants are not reaching the end of their economic lifespans. They are becoming economically unviable due to the last 1% of emissions theory of pollution control. The capital outlays necessary for that extra emission control make retrofitting the existing plants coal plants cost prohibitive. The utility companies don’t complain because they just pass the cost on to rate payers and add their obligatory 10% legislated profit.

        Natural gas-fired plants are viable at this time due to fracking. Gas is cheap. As soon as the clean energy industry is successful at regulations the coal-fired plant out of existence, their next stop will be natural gas. Like totalitarian regimes built on falsehoods, the appetite is never satisfied.

        I do not know of any appreciable air pollution caused by a coal-fired plant in the USA. If I look at the cities with the worst pollution, LA, PHX, Denver, I’m not aware of any coal plants within their areas.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          CaddyDaddy…
          Several coal fired plants in CO, coal is plentiful on the western slope.

          • 0 avatar
            CaddyDaddy

            Coal fired plants in Colorado like Rawhide (Wellington, CO.), Hayden, Craig, Comanche in Pueblo, Valmont in Boulder (just converted to Natural Gas), Cameo in Junction and Jim Bridger in WY do not contribute to Front Range pollution. Front Range pollution is caused by all the other economic activities and our weather patterns.

        • 0 avatar
          philipwitak

          re: “As soon as the clean energy industry is successful at regulations the coal-fired plant out of existence, their next stop will be natural gas. Like totalitarian regimes built on falsehoods, the appetite is never satisfied.”

          no falsehoods – just plenty of room for improvement.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      The last coal plant in Massachusetts is scheduled to close down this month. So, no coal powering my EV.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        mcs, hate to blow your I’m greener than thee argument but, electricity is fungible, and I’m sure neighboring state’s Coal plants are connected into your electric utility’s local grid.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          @CaddyDaddy:

          Exactly how are you sure, you don’t know which state I live next to and what they have for power. You’re sure – yeah right.

          I’m not making a greener than thee argument, just stating facts. Actually, the state I border on is shutting their coal stations down. Those plants are over fifty miles from me and several of their biggest cities are between me and the plant. There are several other power plants that are closer, so I’m not seeing any of their power. Comprende? Furthermore, a major chunk of power I run on is generated from solar panels and I’ll be adding some at home, so I’ll be mostly solar.

          • 0 avatar
            CaddyDaddy

            If your in the NE, then your grid is connected to power plants in Pennsylvania, and yes you get lots of power from coal. BTW, living in MA where the state is like 5 miles wide, you live next to all NE states when in comes to power grids.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Wait… Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department?

    Well cover me with moss and call me Pete. Who’d a thunk it?

  • avatar
    sirwired

    FCA is not helping their case with “there isn’t a problem, but we are fixing it now” release of a modification to the ECU.

    Either your cars are in compliance, and you prove that to the EPA, or they aren’t, and you issue the fix, humbly apologize, and negotiate a token fine with the promise to Go Forth and Sin No More.

    Trying to have it both ways isn’t going to make those negotiations go very well.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Yeah, VW did that too, and we all know how that turned out in the end.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Fixing whatever the supposed problem is without admitting guilt is probably the best course of action at this time. If FCA admits guilt then they have no defense in court, so they won’t do that. If FCA can convincingly show that their undisclosed software routines were not designed primarily to trick the test cycle, then they may be found not guilty of that charge. OTOH, if they are found guilty but they have been proactive in mitigating the situation by rectifying the problem beforehand, then the court will likely be lenient on them.

      Contrast this with VW, which spent years stalling when they were asked about their emissions systems, and didn’t relent until there was indisputable proof that they were deliberately trying to game the tests. Then they had to scramble to engineer something that works and could be retrofitted.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        They should have learned that, through the Toyota mess. It’s part of the Japanese culture to apologize, without actually admitting guilt, but in our legal system, an apology IS an admission of guilt. That’s where ‘I didn’t do it, and I promise not to do it again’ comes in. FCA seems to be doing just that, in the finest tradition of American jurisprudence.

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