By on April 23, 2021

2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE, Image: FCA

Federal prosecutors Tuesday unsealed new criminal charges that named several Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) officials accused of conspiring to cheat U.S. emissions tests and defraud customers buying their diesel-powered products. The indictment was opened in the Eastern District of Michigan, identifying FCA diesel senior manager Emanuele Palma (42) and two Italian nationals employed by FCA Italy SpA — Sergio Pasini (43) of Ferrera and Gianluca Sabbioni (55) of Sala Bolognese.

Palma had been charged previously and becomes a co-conspirator in the alleged plot to develop a 3.0-liter diesel engine used in FCA vehicles that could flummox emissions tests allowing the automaker to sell vehicles that did not adhere to government regulations. The motor started appearing inside engine bays in 2014, including popular models like the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee. 

The indictment comes 18 months after Palma was first charged with federal crimes that overlapped with the federal crackdown on collusion between the automotive industry and the United Auto Workers. That investigation led to 15 convictions, including former FCA VP Alphons Iacobelli and numerous high-ranking members of the UAW.

While the manufacturer agreed with the Securities & Exchange Commission to issue a $9.5-million settlement to help dissolve allegations that it intentionally misled investors in 2016 over the same vehicles, and spent almost a billion dollars in related civil penalties, some employees have remained in Dutch. Last year, Palma was looking at 13 counts against him with the judge dismissing a handful of wire fraud charges and was being painted as a liar by prosecutors. According to the Department of Justice, he will be confronting one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to violate the Clean Air Act, one count of wire fraud conspiracy, six counts of violating the Clean Air Act and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators as per the new documents.

Pasini and Sabbioni are looking at one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to violate the Clean Air Act, six counts of violating the Clean Air Act, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

From the DOJ:

The superseding indictment alleges that Palma, Pasini, Sabbioni, and their co-conspirators, purposely 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. Palma, Pasini, Sabbioni, and their co-conspirators allegedly referred to the manner in which they manipulated one method of emissions control as “cycle beating.” As alleged, by calibrating the emissions control functions on the subject vehicles to produce lower NOx emissions while the vehicles were on the driving “cycle,” and higher NOx emissions when the vehicles were off the driving “cycle,” or “off cycle,” the three defendants purposely misled FCA’s regulators by making it appear that the subject vehicles were producing less NOx emissions than they were, i.e., in real world driving conditions. Palma, Pasini, and Sabbioni also allegedly made and caused others to make false and misleading representations to FCA’s regulators about the emissions control functions of the subject vehicles in order to ensure that FCA obtained regulatory approval to sell the subject vehicles in the United States.

The indictment also alleges that the three men used the above strategy to achieve best-in-class fuel efficiency as a way to make the vehicles more attractive to potential customers similar to how Volkswagen ran the Dieselgate scandal. This also opens up the door for the feds to nab other people that might have been involved by establishing the premise that co-conspirators would have understood “cycle beating” for the act to have been accomplished in the first place.

[Image: Ram/Stellantis]

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23 Comments on “Stellantis Staffers Charged With Conspiracy to Cheat Emissions Tests, Defraud Customers...”

  • avatar

    I continue to believe that the vast majority of diesels sold in light vehicles since Euro V came into effect have been fraudulent. You can tell the honest ones because their power and fuel economy aren’t competitive with all the fraudsters.

    Just ban diesel in everything smaller than a Class 3 truck already, and then tax the sale of diesel engines in Class 3s and 4s heavily so it is only the pro haulers who buy them rather than the douchebro coal-rolling crowd.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree 100% with the first paragraph.

    • 0 avatar

      The testing regimen itself is so idiotic it’s not just hard, but indeed fundamentally impossible, to reliably differentiate “fraudulent” from simply “good at tuning for the prevailing test.” Just like weight class fighters “become lighter” by temporarily sweating themselves half to death.

      Hence, enforcement is, as intended in progressive dystopias, fundamentally arbitrary. Leaving it open to lobbying, forking over value createdby productive people to useless quarreling ambulance chasers, and the rest of progressive pathologia.

      If you wanted to build a procedure resulting in lack of cheating, you’d pay good money to whomever managed to come up with a scenario in which an engine emits too much. Simple as that. Then people would ferret out every conceivable “cheat,” and collect.

      Absent that, all the silly “tests” are doing, is encouraging optimizing engines for entirely unrealistic scenarios, magically hoping (more realistically being either too darned dumb to understand, or to jaded to care) that there is somehow no way to do well in an oversimplified test, without simultaneously also doing equally well in the much more complex real world.

      But, that’s progressivism: Dimbulbs arbitrarily sorting the entire universe into oversimplified arbitrary categories, then being to dumb to realize that they are losing something (asymptotically moving towards literally _everything_ over time, but fat chance the gullible yahoos will ever figure that one out…) in the process.

      • 0 avatar

        WOW! Absolutely correct and summed up nicely
        Especially the second & last paragraphs.( I will be using those every chance I get!)

      • 0 avatar

        So…blame “progressivism” for automakers cheating on emissions tests.

        Gotcha. By this logic:

        -You’re walking down the street and get mugged. Blame the people who created streets.

        -Your daughter gets raped on a date. Blame the person who came up with the laws concerning rape.


        (By the way, “progressivism” wasn’t in charge for the last four years…Trumpism was. Be sure to blame that too.)

  • avatar

    The crazy thing is, at least in the case of VW, the performance and economy of the TDI 4 cylinder did not seem significantly impacted by the fix that removed the non-test cycle calibration. I drove back to back in a Jetta DSG could tell no difference between the two calibrations. Seems insane to thing no one would ever figure out this two program strategy to artificially inflate mileage and performance.

  • avatar

    I assume all these guys are back in Italy and won’t be extradited?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Many owners will further defeat the emissions equipment to be able to harass Prius owners by “coal rolling” them.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised these guys did this in light of the VW Dieselgate Scandal.
    Then again, the automakers have been screwing with the EPA forever. In the old days, it was Optimally tuned engines, Modified carbs, low rolling resistance tires, over-inflated tires, etc.

    Few if any vehicles today or back then deliver the emissions and MPG in the real world, vs a lab.

    This isnt the last time you will hear about emissions cheating. I suspect there are some very bright minds out there that once they know all the ins and outs of the portable testing system, they will figure a way around it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The VW scandal didn’t come to public light until late 2015, approximately four months after I bought my 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI SEL, and sold my 2014 Jetta SportWagen TDI.

  • avatar

    look, it’s as simple as this: “what numbers do you want? Here you go.”

    This is an arms race: the regulations are the armor, and the software-driven engine control system is the arms. And in the race of arms and armor, arms always win.

    Remember, there are tens of millions of commissioned salespeople out there who live and breathe off their compensation plans. They know these plans better than the people who put them together–and the do everything they can to maximize their income, no matter what the intent of the plan is.

    Corporate boardrooms are similar. Tell me what the law is, and you can bet I’ll follow it to the last dot. If I benefit from consequences you didn’t intend–and that happens every hour of every day–it’s not my fault for understanding your law better than you do.

    So here we have an honor system and a high ROI on bending, if not breaking, the system. Those are easy dice to roll–especially if you’re the upper management and you can throw “senior engineers” under the bus like this.

    • 0 avatar

      …So here we have an honor system and a high ROI on bending, if not breaking, the system…

      This is true. That is why in situations such as this, the penalties for violations have to be staggeringly high – like bringing the company to the edge of bankruptcy and arresting those who greenlight such decisions. You need the stick to grossly outweigh the carrot if you will. Then you won’t see these things happen…too often a company gets a $20M penalty which sounds like a lot until you realized the lawbreaking netted them $40M, which just means that penalty is just the cost of doing business. Have to change the calculus…

  • avatar

    That is the cost of virtue signaling. Lets see how they are going to cheat to comply with regulations 2030.

    • 0 avatar

      If the regulations of 2030 ever actually come to fruition.
      If they do, I suspect some of those regulations will come with caveats (they usually do). Somebody will Come up with a way(s) around them.
      The world cant run on smiles, high fives, and unicorn farts. To put it another way, you can have my ICE when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Very clever analogy, the arms race.

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