Lawsuit claims GM used VW-like defeat devices

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Detroit — A year after a class-action lawsuit accused General Motors Co. of cheating on emissions-testing with its Cruze Diesel, a new lawsuit charges the automaker with similar acts involving diesel-powered Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups.

The class-action suit filed Thursday in Detroit federal court covers a total of 705,000 trucks equipped with Duramax diesel engines. Plaintiffs are represented by the same law firm that targeted Volkswagen Group for emissions cheating, which generating billions of dollars in settlements and penalties for the automaker.

The suit charges that 2011-16 Silverado and Sierra heavy-duty models with the Duramax engine emit two to five times the levels of nitrogen-oxide levels allowed by law.

German auto supplier Bosch also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit which portrays the company as “an acting and knowing participant in the scheme to evade U.S. emissions requirements.” Both companies are accused of programming software “to detect a possible emission testing environment and to comply with emissions requirements in that circumstance, but to turn off the emissions controls when ... testing ... is not detected.”

GM issued a statement Thursday, saying: “These claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves. The Duramax diesel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra comply with all U.S. EPA and CARB emissions regulations.”

A Bosch statement read: “as a matter of policy, and due to the sensitive legal nature of these matters, Bosch will not comment further concerning matters under investigation and in litigation.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Justice Department would not comment Thursday on whether there is any investigation of GM vehicles.

Last year, the same firm law firm — Seattle-based Hagens Berman — targeted GM over its Cruze Diesel, charging the automaker with using software to produce lower emission readings during testing. In February, a judge dismissed a portion of that suit, but allowed it to move forward with allegations of deceptive advertising and fraudulent concealment.

GM stock closed down 1.8 percent Thursday, on a day when broader stock indexes pushed higher.

Six automakers have been linked with diesel cheating since 2015. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV over allegations the company used software to cheat on emissions testing on 100,000 of its diesel vehicles.

“We have been systematically going through diesel cars made by all manufacturers (doing independent testing) since Volkswagen’s scandal came out,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “That led us to Mercedes, that led us to FCA and now we’re adding GM to the list of cheaters.”

Thursday afternoon in a letter to investors, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote: “... Given that this is coming from a class-litigation firm, it cold just be ‘fishing’ for a settlement around charges of deceptive advertising; we’d only know that it’s more serious if the EPA steps in, as the did in the cases of FCA and VW ...”

While the letter raised the possibility that the lawsuit may constitute “fishing” at a time when the auto industry is vulnerable, he also noted: “We have a tough time seeing this issue easily fading away, which could add an overhang to GM stock on top of cycle and secular disruption concerns.”

The 190-page complaint filed by Hagens Berman includes 83 references to VW, and asserts that the environmental damage caused by GM’s vehicles could surpass that of the German automaker’s vehicles.

“This is what General Motors ... promised when selling its popular Silverado and Sierra HD Vehicles — that its Duramax engines turned ‘heavy diesel fuel into a fine mist,’ delivering ‘low emissions’ that were a ‘whopping reduction’ compared to the prior model, and at the same time produced a vehicle with ‘great power,’ ” the lawsuit states. “GM claimed its engineers had accomplished a ‘remarkable reduction of diesel emissions.’ ”

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News Staff Writer Keith Laing contributed to this report.