The U.S. Justice Department announced on May 23, 2017, that it filed a civil lawsuit against FiatChrysler Automobiles alleging that FCA used “software functions that were not disclosed to regulators during the (emissions) certification process and that the vehicles contain defeat devices.” for some 104,000 diesel-engine Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram pickup trucks sold during the 2014-16 model year.
The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, came just days after FCA announced it was seeking emissions certification for 2017 model-year vehicles fitted with the same 3.0-L diesel V6—but with updated software the automaker claimed would achieve the regulatory compliance at issue with the previous model-year diesel vehicles. The FCA certification application followed months of haggling between the automaker and U.S. and California regulatory interests regarding the disputed software governing the diesel engines.
The Justice Dept. summarized its position in announcing the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Detroit, MI, by saying, “The complaint alleges that the undisclosed software functions cause the vehicles’ emission control systems to perform differently, and less effectively, during certain normal driving conditions than on federal emission tests, resulting in increased emissions of harmful air pollutants.”
Shades of VW
The lawsuit’s discrete “defeat device” language insinuates FCA engaged in a deliberate effort to secretly manipulate the engines’ emissions and raises the spectre of the recently settled Volkswagen diesel-emissions scandal in which VW eventually admitted engine-control software was designed as a defeat device.
FiatChrysler, however, insisted its engines’ software contained no defeat-device programming and said in a written response to the lawsuit, “FCA US is currently reviewing the complaint, but is disappointed that the DOJ-ENRD has chosen to file this lawsuit. The Company intends to defend itself vigorously, particularly against any claims that the Company engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.”
The company further continued to press for approval to install updated software for the engines as a resolution to the issue, adding:
“As FCA US announced last week, it has developed updated emissions software calibrations that it believes address the concerns of EPA and CARB, and has now formally filed for diesel vehicle emissions certification with the regulators for its 2017 model year (MY) Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles. Subject to 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. FCA expects that the installation of these updated software calibrations will improve the 2014-2016 MY vehicles’ emissions performance and does not anticipate any impact on performance or fuel efficiency.”
The final claim may be particularly scrutinized by regulators, as the ability to reduce emissions while simultaneously having no detrimental impact on performance or fuel economy is a difficult thermodynamic achievement in contemporary internal-combustion engines.
The Justice Dept. said it had identified “at least eight software-based features” that FCA did not identify in its original emissions-certification application for the 2014-16 models and in on-the-road operation display oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions “that are much higher than the EPA-compliant level.”
The Justice Dept. said it is seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties. Earlier this year the EPA stated that the maximum penalty could amount to $4.6 billion.
FiatChrysler closed its response to the announced federal legal action on an upbeat not by saying, “Notwithstanding this lawsuit, the Company remains committed to working cooperatively with EPA and CARB to resolve the agencies’ concerns quickly and amicably.”