By on May 25, 2022

2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE, Image: FCA

Stellantis has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to criminal conspiracy charges relating to emissions requirements on over 100,000 diesel-powered Ram and Jeep products sold in the United States. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) was previously on the hook for $800 million in civil penalties over a so-called “defeat device” equipped to the automaker’s 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine. Allegations began in 2017 as regulators were hunting for compliance violations in the wake of Volkswagen’s massive emissions scandal from a couple of years earlier.

Despite using Bosch software that was similar to the code that got VW in trouble, FCA maintained that it never intended to deceive regulators and refused to confess to any crimes after the California Air Recourses Board (CARB) filed numerous complaints about the vehicles in question. Though, prior to merging with France’s PSA Group, FCA’s position was basically to sell the vehicles it thought consumers wanted while purchasing carbon credits and enduring whatever financial penalties government regulators threw its way. But the company’s legal representation has been in negotiations for years over exactly what a guilty plea would entail — just in case.

Now part of Stellantis, FCA has already paid roughly $300 million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and CARB. Additional fines were given to the State of California, Customs and Border Protection, and various state attorneys general. But it was also required to pay to outfit 20,000 units with new catalytic converters while also spending hundreds of millions on software updates and payments to owners of the impacted vehicles. Though the latter group will only end up receiving a few thousand dollars per person.

All told, the above was assumed to average out to $800 million in civil penalties. But an additional $300 million will reportedly be needed in order to cover the fines relating to the pending criminal probe.

According to Reuters, the automaker has agreed to plead guilty to criminal conduct so the matter can be officially resolved. CARB had faulted the company for using “auxiliary emission-control devices” (naughty software) that allowed vehicles to produce excess pollution under certain conditions. FCA had contended these instances fell within acceptable parameters and were tied to things like blowing through fuel to help clean filters or startups during particularly cold weather.

However, the board contended this was not adequately disclosed in advance. From a legal standpoint, this is technically sufficient to draw the ire of government regulators. But neither CARB nor the EPA provided any hard data as to the amount of NOx gasses the vehicles were emitting. Critics decried this as lacking transparency, while supporters cited the ongoing nature of the emission probe that started in 2017.

That said, research conducted by West Virginia University showed that some of the EcoDiesel motors it tested emitted anywhere between 8 and 25 times the allowable amount of nitrogen dioxide. It also claimed that some of the vehicles that had been recalled were still putting out more unwanted gasses under real-world conditions than they would have in a laboratory. At the time, FCA said the study was tainted due to it having been “commissioned by a plaintiffs’ law firm.”

From Reuters:

One of FCA’s employees is preparing to face trial on charges he misled regulators about pollution from the vehicles targeted in the investigation. Last year, the Justice Department disclosed charges against two additional FCA employees in the alleged emissions fraud.

An indictment alleges the employees conspired to install defeat devices in vehicles so they could dupe government emissions tests and then pollute beyond legal limits on roadways.

FCA has previously resolved related civil allegations while denying it deliberately attempted to cheat on emissions tests.

The accusations are more or less what happened with Volkswagen, who only bothered to lean into diesel-powered cars to satiate Europe’s new environmental rules that prioritized “clean diesel technologies” regulators believed would help the environment. However, the region started cracking down on the fuel after electric vehicles became available and sobriquet data revealed that diesel actually produced more harmful particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. As the regulatory noose tightened, VW was faulted for widespread cheating in 2015 and the subsequent legal battle, guilty plea, and massive financial penalties became global news.

The resulting fallout made diesel an easy target for regulators and there was a three-to-four year period where governments came down hard on anybody building diesel motors. Fines have been issued, certifications have been delayed, and most automakers have been distancing themselves from the fuel ever since. But whether not that’s a desirable outcome probably has a lot to do with the type of vehicles you drive and your personal feelings on present-day environmental regulations.

[Image: Stellantis]

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17 Comments on “Stellantis Paying $300 Million in Emission Fines, Seeking Plea Deal...”

  • avatar

    “But whether not that’s a desirable outcome probably has a lot to do with the type of vehicles you drive and your personal feelings on present-day environmental regulations.”

    …or how you feel about companies breaking the law…

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Regulations and the law change on a regular basis. Neither are not stagnant. I don’t want to come across as overly sympathetic toward manufacturers. But plenty of environmental regulations exist on untenable timelines and can always be circumvented by paying the government a lot of money. Others backfire wildly, with Europe’s pro-diesel push being a primo example. The difficult part is figuring out where the line is to better determine when regulators have gone too far and when automakers are just pulling a fast one in the hopes of making extra money.

      • 0 avatar

        “Circumvented by paying fines”?

        I suppose so, but that’s how corporations who break the law get punished.
        Doesn’t make it right (or fair), but you can’t put corporations in jail. You punish them with fines. For better or worse, that’s how it works. If you have a better idea on how to punish companies, I’d love to hear it.

        As far as whether the regulations in question went too far, I suppose that’s a fair topic of conversation, but the regulations were in place, FCA knew about them, and (far as we know) their competitors at Ford and GM played by the rules. FCA didn’t. They broke the law.

      • 0 avatar

        “Neither are not stagnant” ???

        Ditch the “not” or the “N” in Neither.

    • 0 avatar

      There is no more rule of law.

  • avatar

    “The resulting fallout made diesel an easy target for regulators and there was a three-to-four year period where governments came down hard on anybody building diesel motors.”

    “Governments came down hard” because OEMs were blatantly cheating. Remarkably, it appears that every major OEM except Mazda and GM was doing so. Now everybody realizes that diesels won’t future emissions standards at reasonable cost, and the world is moving away from diesel in passenger cars as a result. If you care about public health, that’s the right outcome.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I’ve no personal attachment to diesel powertrains. But the fact that Europe prioritized and subsidized diesel-powered vehicles for decades plays an important factor here. Volkswagen (and most other automakers) have histories loaded up with them doing unsavory things for the sake of profit. But there was no way they were going to be able to adhere to evolving emission laws within the given timeframe. FCA leadership repeatedly said so and so have other brands on occasion. At the end of the day, companies can effectively buy their way into compliance via carbon credits or roll the dice and hope they don’t get caught cheating.

      At the end of the day there was a feeding frenzy tied to diesel powertrains in the wake of dieselgate. Most of it seem justified. But regulatory actions sometimes feel like a witch hunt.

      • 0 avatar

        The fine in question is for Ram pickups sold in the U.S., not Europe. And regulations don’t explain the popularity of diesel pickups in the U.S. – that’s all about towing capacity.

        I don’t see how European regulations have anything to do with this.

      • 0 avatar

        European regs and CAFE are/were both bad. Europe put they their thumb on the scale for diesels and CAFE puts its thumb on the scale for large footprint vehicles.

        I’m not saying the roads would be filled with hybrid Focuses if those laws were written better, but at least lead that horse to water.

        • 0 avatar

          @ajla. Correct. EU laws favoured small engines and diesels whereas US laws favoured big vehicles.

          Pickups became heavy halfs to avoid emissions rules and pickups were turned into SUV’s for the same reason. That’s partially why we don’t see regular cab compact trucks.

          • 0 avatar

            EU regs are more similar than different. Larger EU vehicles enjoy a separate standard, thanks to common sense. Otherwise they’d be prohibitive or basically banned.

            The biggest difference is fuel tax, traditionally.

            EU laws differ from CAFE for no good reason other than non-tariff barriers. It’s silly but they have to zig everywhere US regs zag.

            Which do you think happened first? The EU didn’t require catalytic converters until 1993.

            Think about liters (consumed) per Kilometers. Nothing is lost in translation, it’s just stupid.

  • avatar

    I blame Europe and auto journalists.

  • avatar

    Even when rounded off at a billion, it’s still laughable compared to the obscene profits of said vehicles. Yes they subsidize other lines or brands within the group, but no doubt the exposure is figured in, similar to “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”.

    Of course the CARB and EPA are “for profit” operations, so they’re not looking to completely kill guilty automakers, or any money makers they find in violation for that matter. Yes it’s based on ability to pay, the regular Mafia is the same way.

  • avatar

    If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying!

    It’s only a problem if you get caught.
    Oh, crap, we got caught… Quick! Call in the lawyers! Mitigate the damages [financial damages only]! Deny culpability! Distract them with a new four-door Jeep! Postpone everything until the French get stuck with the consequences!

  • avatar

    Environmental regulations related to the auto industry in general suck. They are rarely ever developed by actual environmental professionals who have real-world automotive experience. If they did they would know that Diesels would never meet the regulations in the specified time frame without significant problems, in performance, maintenance, etc. So the only options left were to cheat or not sell the cars. VW developed the software to cheat the EPA tests. Something that every manufacturer has always done (specially tuned engines, different lubricants, lower rolling resistant tires,etc.). What VW did not expect was the tests by WVU (THose Meddling kids!).

    Don’t think that this will stop with EVs. When the EPA comes up with some hair-brained reg or standard, the EV manufacturers will cheat as well. I can see it now, Hidden battery packs, special “juiced up” batteries,etc

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. One saw that on carbureted motorcycles. They almost always had a bad lean spot in their jetting. Everyone knew it was to pass emissions. Same can be said for turbocharged engines. They test better than a comparable V8. On the subject of V8’s, anyone truly happy with cylinder deactivation in the real world?

  • avatar

    “Rules and regulations have no meaning anymore…”

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