FCA moves to modify disputed diesel vehicles

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is seeking federal approval for new software for its diesel-powered 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 that it says can also address regulators’ concerns about its 2014-2016 versions of the vehicles that have been under the microscope for most of the year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January accused the automaker of failing to disclose software on about 104,000 diesel-powered pickups and SUVs that regulators said could be similar to the “defeat devices” Volkswagen AG used to cheat emissions testing on millions of its diesel cars.

FCA has contended that its vehicles are fully in compliance with regulations, but the company said Friday that its new diesel cars will feature “vehicles feature updated emissions software calibrations.” The company said it will also seek permission to modify the 2014-2016 versions of the diesels that are in dispute to end the standoff with federal regulators.

“The filing is the result of many months of close collaboration between FCA US and EPA and (the California Air Resources Board), including extensive testing of the vehicles, to clarify issues related to the Company’s emissions control technology,” FCA said in a statement. “With the permission of EPA and CARB, FCA US intends to install the same modified emissions software in 2014-2016 MY Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles. FCA US believes this will address the agencies’ concerns regarding the emissions software calibrations in those vehicles.”

The EPA has alleged that FCA did not disclose at least eight auxiliary emission control devices on Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 pickups from the 2014-16 model years with 3-liter diesel engines. Automakers can legally use emission control devices to deactivate a vehicle’s emission control system in certain conditions, but regulators require the disclosures when companies apply for certificates that are required to sell cars in the U.S.

FCA has vehemently disputed the accusations from federal regulators, but the company warned its shareholders in late February that it could face fines of up to $4.6 billion if federal regulators conclude that the company has installed pollution-control defeat devices on about 104,000 diesel-powered pickups and SUVs.

Volkswagen was forced to pay $2.8 billion in criminal fines and $1.5 billion in civil penalties after the German company admitted to programming its diesel cars to trick emissions testers into believing the engines released far less pollution into the air than they actually do, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. Regulators have said that in normal driving they emitted up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide than the legal limit.

In addition to the fines, the beleaguered German automaker has agreed to pay $14.7 billion to fix or buy back about 475,000 rigged 2-liter diesel vehicles and $1.2 billion on 80,000 3-liter diesels.

The U.S. government has indicted six present and former Volkswagen executives and charged the company with three criminal felony counts for what regulators called a 10-year conspiracy to rig hundreds of thousands of diesel cars to cheat U.S. emission standards.

The emission-cheating scheme has cost Volkswagen more than $20 billion in fines and settlements, in addition to goodwill among some U.S. drivers.

FCA said Friday it believes the modifications that is proposed to its disputed diesels “should help facilitate a prompt resolution to ongoing discussions with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and other governmental agencies.”

The company says it doesn’t expect the updated software will hurt performance or fuel efficiency.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing