Suit alleges Mercedes cheated on diesel testing

Keith Laing
The Detroit News
The Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec model is among those named in the Arizona lawsuit on diesel testing.

Detroit — Fresh on the heels of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's $800 million settlement with federal regulators over alleged emission cheating on diesel-powered cars, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz looks to be the next automaker in the legal cross-hairs over polluting cars.

A lawsuit filed last week by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich alleges that Mercedes-Benz and German auto supplier Bosch, which designed software for both Mercedes as well as Volkswagen and FCA, used a so-called "defeat device" on cars equipped with its BlueTec technology. The suit says it was used to disable emission controls used to pass muster with federal environmental regulators under real-world driving conditions on certain diesel models manufactured between 2007 and 2016.

The lawsuit makes Mercedes-Benz the third automaker to come under fire for the environmental performance of its diesel cars, following Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen.

The lawsuit alleges Mercedes-Benz "aggressively and consistently marketed their BlueTEC vehicles across all media as 'the world’s cleanest and most advanced diesel' with 'ultra-low emissions, high fuel economy and responsive performance' that emits 'up to 30 percent lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline.'”

Mercedes-Benz, which markets BlueTec on its U.S. website as a "system that converts NOx emissions into harmless nitrogen and water," vehemently denied the allegations from the Arizona attorney general.

"We believe that these claims are without merit, and we intend to vigorously defend against them," Ute Wüest von Vellberg, Daimler's head of Integrity and Legal Affairs, Human Resources and External Affairs, said Monday in a statement provided to The Detroit News.

The following Mercedes-Benz BlueTec models were named in the Arizona lawsuit: ML 320, ML 350, GL 320, E320, S350, R320, E Class, GL Class, ML Class, R Class, S Class, GLK Class, GLE Class and Sprinter. Mercedes-Benz stopped selling diesel cars in the U.S. in 2018.

Spokespersons for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The allegations against Mercedes-Benz mirror charges levied against Volkswagen AG and Fiat Chrysler that resulted in massive fines being imposed against both manufacturers.

FCA agreed to a settlement last week that requires it to pay $515 million in civil penalties to the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board. That figure includes $305 million in fines; $185 million for recalls and repairs; $19 million to California to mitigate violations of that state's environmental laws; and $6 million to United States Customs and Border Protection to resolve allegations of illegally importing 1,700 noncompliant vehicles.

In a separate settlement, FCA will pay $280 million to compensate drivers of Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 pickups from the 2014-16 model years with 3-liter V-6 diesel engines. Bosch which was also named in the latest suit filed by Arizona, will pay an additional $27.5 million as part of the settlement. Bosch will pay $2.7 million to Michigan.

In the aftermath of the Volkswagen scandal, six of the German automaker's present and former executives were indicted, and Volkswagen itself was charged with three criminal felony counts for what regulators called a 10-year conspiracy to rig hundreds of thousands of diesel cars to evade U.S. emission standards.Volkswagen was forced to pay $2.8 billion in criminal fines and $1.5 billion in civil penalties related to fraud for what regulators called a 10-year conspiracy to rig hundreds of thousands of diesel cars to evade U.S. emission standards.

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