DOJ may end Ram emissions lawsuit with hefty fine, recall

Updated Feb 10, 2018

According to a report from Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of Justice is offering Fiat Chrysler Automobiles a settlement in the department’s lawsuit filed against the company last year.

In May 2017, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against FCA over alleged violations of federal diesel emissions regulations. Since January 2017, FCA has faced allegations from both the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board of cheating on emissions testing by installing undisclosed engine management software in 2014-2016 Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs equipped with a 3-liter EcoDiesel engine.

Bloomberg reports that the DOJ is offering to settle the suit with FCA once the automaker pays “a substantial but unspecified” fine, and recalls 104,000 Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs. However, Bloomberg notes that “The proposed settlement doesn’t include an end to a criminal investigation of the automaker by the Justice Department related to diesel emissions.” So, FCA and other automakers might not be out of the woods just yet.

The alleged “undisclosed engine management software,” usually called a “cheating device” is typically able to detect when a vehicle is being subjected to emissions testing and applies additional emissions controls during the test. However, these additional controls shut off when real world highway conditions are detected, allowing the vehicles in question to emit significantly higher levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions than they did while being tested.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s exactly the same thing the EPA and CARB accused Volkswagen of in 2015. That scandal ended up in an upheaval of Volkswagen’s leadership and the German automaker being required to buy back some 500,000 vehicles from customers.

When the suit was filed, FCA maintained its innocence, and said it was “disappointed” in the decision by the DOJ’s Environmental Natural Resources Division to file suit.

“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,” an FCA statement read.

However, the allegations did stop production of Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel models at least temporarily. Around the time the DOJ suit was filed, FCA said it had a software fix that it would be installing on new trucks that would address the feds’ concerns. By August, the EPA and CARB had given approval to 2017 Ram EcoDiesel trucks and 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs equipped with the patched software and FCA resumed production of both vehicles.

FCA said that approval from both agencies was the result of several months of collaboration between FCA and the EPA and CARB.

“The approvals announced today represent a significant step toward resolving the issues raised by EPA and ARB,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said in August. “We appreciate the efforts of the agencies in working with us to achieve this milestone. We are anxious to build on this progress to make appropriate updates to the emissions control software in our earlier model-year vehicles.”

Note: This article was written by Wayne Grayson, the online managing editor for Equipment World, a partner publication of Hard Working Trucks.