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Truck owners accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Cummins Inc. were named Monday in a class-action lawsuit that alleges the companies deceived consumers by selling diesel pickups that emitted illegal levels of emissions.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Detroit, alleges the companies conspired and rigged some Dodge trucks to hide emissions that were as much as 14 times higher than permitted by law.

U.S. regulators including the Environmental Protection Agency have taken no action against the companies. Fiat Chrysler, in a statement, said it is reviewing the lawsuit.

“Based on the information available to it, FCA US does not believe that the claims brought against it are meritorious,” the company said. “FCA US will contest this lawsuit vigorously.”

Indiana-based Cummins said the lawsuit is without merit.

“We’re deeply disappointed in the effort to tarnish our image and we will vigorously defend ourselves,” Cummins spokesman Jon M. Mills said in a statement. “We’ve had a great partnership with Chrysler for more than 30 years and our companies continue to be committed to putting our customers first.”

Mills said it has a robust certification process and it adheres to all emissions regulations worldwide.

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The class action suit claims the Cummins diesel engines were tuned to conceal emissions output, which caused the trucks’ catalytic converters to wear out quickly. It alleges that led to vehicles burning fuel at a higher rate and customers often had to replace a converter after the warranty, costing some $3,000 to $5,000.

“The sheer level of fraud and concealment between Chrysler and Cummins is unconscionable, and we believe we have uncovered a deeply entrenched scheme,” Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP law firm, said in a statement.

In August, Fiat Chrysler sued Cummins in U.S. District Court in Detroit over a breach of contract related to an issue with certain trucks and their diesel engine exhaust aftertreatment systems. The lawsuit says that the system Cummins designed did not comply with regulations.

Cummins has countersued Fiat Chrysler and in July submitted a plan to the California Air Resources Board and EPA to recall some 135,824 2013-15 Ram 2500 heavy-duty trucks nationally, court documents show. The trucks have 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engines in them and a recall is necessary to replace component parts in the aftertreatment system that may release air pollutants that exceed emissions levels, according to court filings.

Mills said the parties have agreed to recall the vehicles and that process will begin soon.

The companies are fighting over who would pay for the recall.

The EPA declined to comment.

Volkswagen AG in 2015 admitted that it installed devices designed to fool emission testing in 11 million cars worldwide in a scandal that may cost it 18.2 billion euros ($19.5 billion). Claims of rigging vehicles have also been made against Mercedes-Benz, which has denied the allegations.

According to the class action lawsuit, Fiat Chrysler and Cummins hid from consumers that pollutants that were supposed to have been broken down inside the diesel engines instead had a tendency to escape, almost doubling the emissions and reducing the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The companies are accused of fraud, false advertising and racketeering in the complaint on behalf of the owners of almost 500,000 Dodge Rams.

The lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler — created in 2014 through the merger of Chrysler and Fiat — further calls into question the credibility of clean-diesel technology. Excessive emissions from the vehicles exposed the general public to noxious levels of smog, according to the lawsuit.

The claims involving Dodge and Ram pickups from 2007 and 2012.

The alleged fraud was prompted by a regulatory shift in 2001, according to the filing. Companies saw an opportunity for growth after the EPA announced stringent new emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel engines effective 2010. Chrysler and Cummins bet they could leapfrog the industry and produce a vehicle to meet those standards three years ahead of schedule, according to the complaint.

Fiat Chrysler stock fell 7.7 percent Monday to close at $7.06 per share.

Bloomberg News and News Staff Writer Keith Laing contributed.