Fiat Chrysler Accused Of Using Potential “Defeat Devices” In More Than 100,000 Trucks, SUVs

A day announcing criminal charges and a $4.3 billion settlement in the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal, the Environmental Protection Agency is accusing another carmaker, Fiat Chrysler, of using “defeat device” software to skirt emission standards in more than 100,000 vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler of equipping more than 104,000 diesel-engine SUVs and trucks made and sold since 2014 with hidden software that could have compromised the vehicles’ emissions control systems.

The notice of violation of the Clean Air Act relates to model year 2014 to 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 vehicles with 3.0 liter diesel engines. It should be noted that the company’s model year 2017 vehicles have not yet been certified by the EPA.

According to the EPA, these vehicles use software that could allow them to emit levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in excess of standards set by the Clean Air Act. The EPA has not yet put a number on how much NOx is being released by the vehicles in question, but did say that it is extensive.

The auxiliary emission control devices, which could be similar to the defeat devices used in 500,000 VW and Audi vehicles in the U.S. and 11 million worldwide, were first uncovered by the EPA after the agency expanded a testing program to screen for defeat devices in light duty vehicles.

The testing — performed sometime after Sept. 2015 — revealed that the FCA vehicles produce increased NOx emissions under conditions that would be encountered in normal operation and use. As part of the investigation, EPA found at least eight undisclosed pieces of software that allow emissions controls to be used at full force during lab testing, but controls are reduced when cars on undergoing regulator use.

The EPA notes that it is still investigating whether the software constitutes a “defeat device” that purposefully skirts federal emissions standards.

However, by failing to disclose the software during certification and then selling vehicles that contained it, FCA violated important provisions of the Clean Air Act, the agencies allege.

Despite having months-long legal discussions with FCA, the carmaker has yet to respond to the agency with answers to how the software is used and why it wasn’t disclosed previously, according to the agencies.

“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 for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement. “We continue to investigate the nature and impact of these devices.

FCA responded to the notice of violation Thursday afternoon, saying it was disappointed with the EPA’s decision to make the issue public.

The company has “spent months providing voluminous information in response to requests from EPA  and other governmental authorities and has sought to explain its emissions control technology to EPA representatives,” the carmaker said in a statement. “FCA US 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.”

The carmaker says 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 customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements.”

FCA may be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the violations alleged by the EPA and CARB, this could include paying thousands of dollars per affected vehicle.

For now, the EPA says that while the vehicles emit emissions in excess of federal regulations, they are safe and legal for owners to drive.


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