Senior Fiat Chrysler Manager Charged in EcoDiesel Affair

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
senior fiat chrysler manager charged in ecodiesel affair

A senior manager who led the team of diesel engineers behind Fiat Chrysler’s maligned EcoDiesel V6 has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to mislead U.S. regulators and the public.

Following an investigation by the Department of Justice, Emanuele Palma, FCA’s senior manager of diesel driveability and emissions, faces multiple charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., wire fraud, and violation of the Clean Air Act. He’s also accused of lying to the FBI and Environmental Protection Agency investigators.

All of this stems from the EPA-led outcry over auxiliary emissions control devices found on the company’s previous-generation 3.0-liter diesel truck engine.

“Emanuele Palma is alleged to have lied to the EPA, impeding its mission,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan in a DOJ release. “The charges announced today are serious ones, and reflect my office’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the American regulatory system.”

Susan Bodine, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said Palma “is alleged to have knowingly misled EPA regulators to cover up illegal emissions control software installed in certain Fiat Chrysler diesel vehicles,” adding, “We are prepared to use our criminal authorities when faced with allegations of lying and cheating to evade U.S. emissions standards.”

In early 2017, the EPA launched a broadside against FCA, claiming its EcoDiesel models contained emissions control devices that were never brought to the agency’s attention. The salvo brought sales of Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesels to a halt, with FCA forced to recall 104,000 vehicles in order to bring their engines into compliance. A new, more powerful, and legal EcoDiesel will be on offer for 2020.

In a settlement reached last year, FCA paid out $185 million for the recall and fix program, $311 million to cover civil penalties, and $19 million for environmental mitigation efforts. The settlement did not, however, allow FCA to sidestep any criminal liability.

From the DOJ:

As alleged in the indictment, Palma led a team of engineers in the United States responsible for developing and calibrating the 3.0-liter diesel engine used in certain FCA diesel vehicles. Palma supervised the calibration of several software features in the vehicles’ emissions control systems to meet emissions standards for nitrogen oxides (NOx), a family of poisonous gases that are formed when diesel fuels are burned at high temperatures.

The indictment alleges that Palma and his co-conspirators purposefully calibrated the emissions control functions to produce lower NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be undergoing testing on the federal test procedures or driving “cycles,” and higher NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be driven in the real world.

The emissions manipulation was performed, according to the DOJ, to make the engine “more attractive to FCA’s potential customers, i.e., by increasing fuel economy and reducing the frequency of a required emissions control system service interval, rather than to maximize the reduction of NOx emissions.”

Palma’s co-conspirators have not been charged or named.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Sep 25, 2019

    Initially, I really thought VAG was the only baddie here. But this - and the other ongoing investigations - make the diesel mfrs look collusive and/or incompetent when it comes to the technology. You have to wonder if they all knew what the other guys were doing, and simply chose to play the same way. If so, *that's* the real story here. Diesel certainly has its place, but the black eye is only getting worse.

    • See 3 previous
    • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Sep 25, 2019

      @Art Vandelay It's affected Nissan too (though I don't know how much of that was actually Renault's work).

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Sep 25, 2019

    I continue to suspect that every passenger car diesel engine since the Euro 5 standard came into effect is cheating and is being sold to the public fraudulently. I've had a couple people tell me that DPFs and more urea injection for Euro 6 engines have eliminated the need to cheat. I'll believe it when I see a study, or preferably multiple studies, that measure real-world usage patterns and are not funded by manufacturers.

    • See 1 previous
    • Scoutdude Scoutdude on Sep 25, 2019

      @Art Vandelay Yes but it is still quite several miles away from it's grave, so it does still matter, at least in Europe.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
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