U.S. files lawsuit against FCA for alleged diesel emissions violations

2016 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 EcoDiesel2016 Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 EcoDiesel

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit against FCA alleging that the automaker used defeat devices to cheat emissions requirements for its 3.0-liter diesel engine.

FCA, which on Friday had announced a software update that it said would address emissions concerns raised by EPA and the California Air Resources Board, reported today that it was disappointed by the lawsuit and that it would “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 automaker is also facing lawsuits from owners of FCA vehicles equipped with the EcoDiesel engine which the EPA and CARB both say emits excessive pollutants. A hearing on those lawsuits begins tomorrow in a federal court in California.

The DOJ complaint alleges that FCA equipped nearly 104,000 2014-2016 Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs with at least eight software-based features that were not disclosed in FCA’s applications for certificates of conformity and that affect the vehicles’ emission control systems.

“The undisclosed software features lessen the effectiveness of the vehicles’ emissions control systems during certain normal driving situations,” a press release from DOJ states. “This results in cars that meet emission standards in the laboratory and during standard EPA testing, but during certain normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that are much higher than the EPA-compliant level.”

The complaint alleges that each of these vehicles differs materially from the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications and as a result are in violation of the Clean Air Act and cannot be certified.

“These allegations are consistent with those set forth in notice of violation that EPA issued to FCA US LLC and FCA NV on January 12, 2017,” DOJ states.

After issuing the violation, EPA continued its investigation into the operation of the allegedly undisclosed software-based features.  Based upon this investigation, the complaint alleges that one or more of these undisclosed software features, alone or in combination with the others, renders inoperative, bypasses and/or defeats the vehicles’ emission control systems, which were installed to make the vehicles comply with Clean Air Act emission standards. In short, the complaint now alleges that the vehicles contain defeat devices.

The civil complaint filed today seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. The U.S. also filed a notice that it will request to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California.

EPA and CARB are continuing in their discussions with FCA to bring affected vehicles into compliance with the Clean Air Act and California law. It’s not clear how long that might take, according to DOJ.