Fiat Chrysler Automobiles equipped about 104,000 recent Ram trucks and Jeep sport-utility vehicles with engine management software that allows the autos to emit harmful levels of smog-forming nitrogen oxides in violation of federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency said
The federal agency levied a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act against the automaker on Thursday. The California Air Resources Board has issued a similar notice. Both agencies have opened investigations.
The software is in model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-liter diesel engines sold in the U.S.
“Failing to disclose software that affects emissions in a vehicle’s engine is a serious violation of the law, which can result in harmful pollution in the air we breathe,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator in the EPA, said in a statement. “We continue to investigate the nature and impact of these devices. All automakers must play by the same rules, and we will continue to hold companies accountable that gain an unfair and illegal competitive advantage.”
At least eight pieces of software were discovered in FCA vehicles that are capable of altering emissions, according to the agency. FCA had not reported their existence as automakers are required.
FCA denied the claim and said that its emissions control strategies are justified.
The company said it “intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements.”
The automaker said it has spent months providing “voluminous information” to and has sought to explain its emissions control technology to EPA representatives.
The company said it has “proposed a number of actions to address EPA’s concerns, including developing extensive software changes to our emissions control strategies that could be implemented in these vehicles immediately to further improve emissions performance.”
“It’s mind boggling to hear that another company is cheating at the expense of our lungs,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project at the National Resources Defense Council. “It’s absolutely critical for protecting clean air that agencies like EPA and California Air Resources Board continue to enforce these programs and have the resources to do so.
The regulatory crackdown on FCA comes just one day after Volkswagen agreed to plead guilty to three criminal counts and pay $4.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations resulting from its scheme to install a diesel emissions test cheating device in about 600,000 vehicles sold in the U.S. The scam will cost Volkswagen at least $20 billion in the U.S., including fines, the settlement of corporate criminal charges and the cost of repurchasing the vehicles from consumers.
Six of the German automaker’s executives still face U.S. criminal charges stemming from the scheme. One has been arrested.
The Clean Air Act requires automakers to demonstrate that their vehicles meet federal emission standards. The law mandates that the manufacturers disclose any software, known as auxiliary emission control devices, that can alter how a vehicle emits air pollution.
“FCA did not disclose the existence of certain auxiliary emission control devices to EPA in its applications for certificates of conformity for model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 trucks, despite being aware that such a disclosure was mandatory,” the EPA said.
As long as they are disclosed, equipping a vehicle with auxiliary emission control devices, or AECDs, is not illegal, according to the CARB. Such devices are used to alter performance “in situations where running the full emissions control system under extreme conditions could damage the engine,” California regulators said.
“None of the AECDs in this case were disclosed, and many do not operate during certification testing – only when the car is taken off the required testing procedures in the laboratory,” CARB said in a statement. “To date none has been finally determined to be a ‘defeat device’ as was the case with VW, but the investigation is still underway.”
As part of its testing of all diesel models following the 2015 VW scandal, the EPA discovered at least eight undisclosed pieces of software that can alter how a vehicle emits air pollution.
Allegations that Ram and Jeep vehicles did not comply with federal emissions rules surfaced in a December lawsuit by the Hagens Berman class-action law firm.
The lawsuit, filed U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of a California Ram 1500 EcoDiesel owner, alleges that FCA and auto parts supplier Bosch “knowingly concealed the use of an emissions-cheating defeat device and illegally high emissions levels up to 10 times the legal limit in EcoDiesel vehicle.”
FCA has denied the claims.
“That’s similar to what the large Volkswagens, the 3.0-liter Volkswagens saw, and the fix there has been primarily through software adjustments,” David Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Trucks.com. “It may be that the options for any potential remedy is much simpler with [FCA] vehicles than the Volkswagens that have had to be basically turned in and scrapped.”
Cooke also suggested that many parties – including Volkswagen, in light of its costly penalties – will be watching closely to ensure that FCA is judged on an equal playing field.
“There’s still a lot of information left to determine what possible solutions or reasons these allegations turn up,” he said.