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Justice Department Sues Fiat Chrysler over Diesel ‘Defeat Devices’

By Steph Willems on May 23, 2017 Tweet

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, alleging the automaker violated the Clean Air Act.

At the root of the lawsuit is roughly 104,000 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles equipped with the 3.0-liter diesel V6, sold between 2014 and 2016. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency accused FCA of failing to disclose eight auxiliary emissions control devices during the certification process. The vehicle’s software allows for higher-than-permitted emissions at certain times.

Despite FCA’s protests — as well as attempts to head off a potential multi-billion-dollar fine — the parallels between this case and Volkswagen’s emissions saga are growing by the day.

The EPA called the automaker’s failure to reveal the emissions software a “serious violation of the Clean Air Act,” and, as we’ve seen with VW, the penalties for such an infraction can be enormous. In FCA’s case, it could face a fine totaling $4.6 billion. The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the issue in January.

In its suit, the DOJ claims the software contained within the diesel SUVs and trucks means the vehicles do not reflect “the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications, and thus the cars are uncertified, in violation of the Clean Air Act.” The nature of how the unapproved emissions software functions means it fits the definition of a “defeat device.”

While the vehicles behave normally during testing, they emit higher-than-legal levels of smog-causing nitrogen oxide in normal driving conditions, the DOJ claims.

FCA has remained in talks with environmental regulators ever since the EPA leveled its accusation, but it became clear last week that a federal lawsuit was nearly inevitable. Last Friday, with a lawsuit looming, FCA attempted to certify its sidelined 2017 model year EcoDiesel models. The automaker filed an application with the EPA and California Air Resources Board seeking emissions certification, declaring the vehicles contained “updated emissions software calibrations.”

Once approved, the updated calibration would be offered free of charge to owners of existing EcoDiesel models. “FCA US believes this will address the agencies’ concerns regarding the emissions software calibrations in those vehicles,” the automaker said in a statement last week.

Fiat Chrysler has issued a statement regarding the lawsuit:

FCA US has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for many months, including extensive testing of the vehicles, to clarify issues related to the Company’s emissions control technology in model-year (MY) 2014-2016 Jeep® Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles.

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 automaker went on to describe its updated emissions software, which it believes will not impact fuel efficiency or performance. “Notwithstanding this lawsuit, the Company remains committed to working cooperatively with EPA and CARB to resolve the agencies’ concerns quickly and amicably,” FCA stated. [Sources: Reuters; The Detroit News] [Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Related Posted in Diesel, Government, Jeep, News Blog Tagged as Diesel, DOJ, Emissions, EPA, fca, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, lawsuit Tweet Print More Reviews "After Snatching Away the Perk, Tesla Returns Free Charging to Certain Owners" Next Post > "FCA Announces Pricing for the ‘840 Horsepower’ Dodge Challenger SRT Demon" Recommended Back to Top End of Comments

32 Comments on “Justice Department Sues Fiat Chrysler over Diesel ‘Defeat Devices’...”

JimZ May 23rd, 2017 at 2:10 pm

has anybody- EPA or other group- done what ICCT did and drive around one of these with a portable gas analyzer? by now you’d think we’d have at least *some* numbers to show how far out of compliance they supposedly are.

Login to reply sirwired May 23rd, 2017 at 3:51 pm

I would assume so. Otherwise, they’d have a tough time knowing about the increased emissions. I know the EPA owns in-car analyzers, I’ve seen them driving around my area. (I live relatively near an EPA lab, and I can’t think of any other reason, besides suicide, for somebody to be driving around town with tubes going from the tailpipe to inside the car.0

Login to reply JimZ May 23rd, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Right now it’s looking like the charges are based simply on the presence of undisclosed AECDs. Which is itself a violation. Could be the .gov is saying “these are here, you didn’t tell us about them, so we assume you use them and are non-compliant.” And since this is a civil suit, FCA bears some burden of proving their innocence.

Login to reply Higheriq May 23rd, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Any half-witted attorney can easily get those assumptions thrown out of court.

Login to reply Nicholas Weaver May 23rd, 2017 at 10:39 pm

Its worse, a group of researchers at UCSD developed techniques to specifically detect defeat devices which are looking for “car is not in test, change parameters”. They were not only able to find the VW ones but also discovered the Fiat/Chrysler ones.

Login to reply highdesertcat May 23rd, 2017 at 2:11 pm

“the parallels between this case and Volkswagen’s emissions saga are growing by the day.”

Nicely done.

Login to reply MLS May 23rd, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Am I missing something? What is particularly “nicely done” about that sentence?

Login to reply highdesertcat May 23rd, 2017 at 6:20 pm


When the VW saga began to unwind, there were plenty of ttac’s B&B who commented that VW was not the only one cheating. No one could prove it at the time, nor did they want to.

What is nicely done about that sentence is that Steph manages to distill all the “told you so’s” into a palatable humble pie for all the nay-sayers.

Login to reply tallguy130 May 23rd, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Somehow I kinda doubt the stuff ends up hitting the fan like it did with VW. Bigger manufacturing presence in the US equals bigger clout in Washington. I would expect some punches to be pulled right or wrong.

Login to reply highdesertcat May 23rd, 2017 at 2:47 pm

I agree. Selective prosecution will rule the day.

Login to reply bumpy ii May 23rd, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Cooperation with EPA and CARB will go a long ways towards mitigating any fines or other sanctions. Half of VW’s problem was being dismissive and contemptuous of the two.

Login to reply caltemus May 24th, 2017 at 10:00 am

This is exactly what happened with the Harley-Davidson Screaming Eagle emissions defeat devices. It was not widely publicized nor receive much negative press; definitely not anything like the vitriol hurled at VW

Login to reply FOG May 23rd, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Resistance is futile. You must be assimilated. Diesel is bad, Gasoline is bad. All ICE drive trains must die. Switch to electricity because it is “Magic”. It isn’t like coal is burned and creates huge amounts of pollution to charge batteries.

Login to reply Cactuar May 23rd, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Plus the electric car salesman gives out free moneys!

Login to reply habib May 23rd, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Depends heavily on where you live. Washington and Oregon have 2 (smaller) coal plants between them, both being shuttered in 2020.

Login to reply orenwolf May 23rd, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Yup, the #1 local pollutant is coal, not cars. Cars and trucks are so minor a pollutant that smog is a non-issue worldwide except around coal plants.

Login to reply Felix Hoenikker May 23rd, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Every year, less coal is burned for electricity. Also, old coal plants are reaching the end of their economic lifespans and are being replaced with less expensive natural gas and renewable generators.

Login to reply Mandalorian May 23rd, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Cars made in the new millennium really don’t contribute a whole lot to smog comparably. Pretty much any new car you go and buy has very advanced emissions equipment under the hood.

The problem is older vehicles, especially older diesels. They have a lot to do with Europe’s smog, for example.

Login to reply CaddyDaddy May 23rd, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Older Coal plants are not reaching the end of their economic lifespans. They are becoming economically unviable due to the last 1% of emissions theory of pollution control. The capital outlays necessary for that extra emission control make retrofitting the existing plants coal plants cost prohibitive. The utility companies don’t complain because they just pass the cost on to rate payers and add their obligatory 10% legislated profit.

Natural gas-fired plants are viable at this time due to fracking. Gas is cheap. As soon as the clean energy industry is successful at regulations the coal-fired plant out of existence, their next stop will be natural gas. Like totalitarian regimes built on falsehoods, the appetite is never satisfied.

I do not know of any appreciable air pollution caused by a coal-fired plant in the USA. If I look at the cities with the worst pollution, LA, PHX, Denver, I’m not aware of any coal plants within their areas.

Login to reply 87 Morgan May 23rd, 2017 at 8:57 pm

CaddyDaddy… Several coal fired plants in CO, coal is plentiful on the western slope.

Login to reply CaddyDaddy May 23rd, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Coal fired plants in Colorado like Rawhide (Wellington, CO.), Hayden, Craig, Comanche in Pueblo, Valmont in Boulder (just converted to Natural Gas), Cameo in Junction and Jim Bridger in WY do not contribute to Front Range pollution. Front Range pollution is caused by all the other economic activities and our weather patterns.

philipwitak May 24th, 2017 at 2:03 pm

re: “As soon as the clean energy industry is successful at regulations the coal-fired plant out of existence, their next stop will be natural gas. Like totalitarian regimes built on falsehoods, the appetite is never satisfied.”

no falsehoods – just plenty of room for improvement.

Login to reply mcs May 23rd, 2017 at 4:56 pm

The last coal plant in Massachusetts is scheduled to close down this month. So, no coal powering my EV.

Login to reply CaddyDaddy May 23rd, 2017 at 5:01 pm

mcs, hate to blow your I’m greener than thee argument but, electricity is fungible, and I’m sure neighboring state’s Coal plants are connected into your electric utility’s local grid.

Login to reply mcs May 23rd, 2017 at 5:29 pm


Exactly how are you sure, you don’t know which state I live next to and what they have for power. You’re sure – yeah right.

I’m not making a greener than thee argument, just stating facts. Actually, the state I border on is shutting their coal stations down. Those plants are over fifty miles from me and several of their biggest cities are between me and the plant. There are several other power plants that are closer, so I’m not seeing any of their power. Comprende? Furthermore, a major chunk of power I run on is generated from solar panels and I’ll be adding some at home, so I’ll be mostly solar.

Login to reply CaddyDaddy May 23rd, 2017 at 6:10 pm

If your in the NE, then your grid is connected to power plants in Pennsylvania, and yes you get lots of power from coal. BTW, living in MA where the state is like 5 miles wide, you live next to all NE states when in comes to power grids.

PrincipalDan May 23rd, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Wait… Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department?

Well cover me with moss and call me Pete. Who’d a thunk it?

Login to reply highdesertcat May 23rd, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Pete, a lot of changes comin’. A lot of opportunities to make money from fines……

Login to reply sirwired May 23rd, 2017 at 3:55 pm

FCA is not helping their case with “there isn’t a problem, but we are fixing it now” release of a modification to the ECU.

Either your cars are in compliance, and you prove that to the EPA, or they aren’t, and you issue the fix, humbly apologize, and negotiate a token fine with the promise to Go Forth and Sin No More.

Trying to have it both ways isn’t going to make those negotiations go very well.

Login to reply brettc May 23rd, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Yeah, VW did that too, and we all know how that turned out in the end.

Login to reply BigOldChryslers May 24th, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Fixing whatever the supposed problem is without admitting guilt is probably the best course of action at this time. If FCA admits guilt then they have no defense in court, so they won’t do that. If FCA can convincingly show that their undisclosed software routines were not designed primarily to trick the test cycle, then they may be found not guilty of that charge. OTOH, if they are found guilty but they have been proactive in mitigating the situation by rectifying the problem beforehand, then the court will likely be lenient on them.

Contrast this with VW, which spent years stalling when they were asked about their emissions systems, and didn’t relent until there was indisputable proof that they were deliberately trying to game the tests. Then they had to scramble to engineer something that works and could be retrofitted.

Login to reply Lorenzo May 25th, 2017 at 1:06 am

They should have learned that, through the Toyota mess. It’s part of the Japanese culture to apologize, without actually admitting guilt, but in our legal system, an apology IS an admission of guilt. That’s where ‘I didn’t do it, and I promise not to do it again’ comes in. FCA seems to be doing just that, in the finest tradition of American jurisprudence.

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What is misleading or deceptive conduct? 

'Conduct' includes actions and statements, such as:

advertisements promotions quotations statements any representation made by a person.

Business conduct is likely to break the law if it creates a misleading overall impression among the intended audience about the price, value or quality of consumer goods or services.

Whether you intended to mislead or deceive is irrelevant; what matters is how your statements and actions - your 'business conduct' – could affect the thoughts and beliefs of a consumer.

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Is puffery misleading or deceptive? 

'Puffery' is wildly exaggerated, fanciful or vague claims that no reasonable person could possibly treat seriously.

Example - puffery

A café owner claims to make 'the best coffee in the world' 'All your dreams will come true' if you use a certain product.

There is no legal distinction between puffery and misleading or deceptive conduct.

Whether a court considers puffery as misleading or deceptive depends on the circumstances of each case.

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A business can break the law by failing to disclose relevant facts to a customer.

Silence can be misleading or deceptive when:

one person fails to alert another to facts known only to them, and the facts are relevant to the decision important details a person should know are not conveyed to them a change in circumstance meant information already provided was incorrect.

Whether silence is misleading or deceptive will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Example – when silence can be misleading

The following could be misleading:

A restaurateur is selling her restaurant. When asked the reason for sale, she does not mention that she is selling because a similar restaurant is opening nearby. A consumer who lives in a regional area is buying a mobile phone. The phone salesman knows where the consumer lives but fails to tell him that the coverage is poor in that area.

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Relying on disclaimers and small print 

Your business cannot rely on disclaimers and small print as an excuse for misleading or deceptive conduct.

Example – relying on disclaimers and small print

A large department store engaged in misleading conduct when it advertised '25 per cent off all clothing' but in small print excluded certain clothing and stated '15-40 per cent off house wares'. A court found this to be misleading conduct.

Legal reference: ACCC v Target Australia Pty Ltd [2001] FCA 1326

However, consumers cannot ignore disclaimers. Prominently displaying disclaimers may be enough to protect a business, depending on the circumstances.

Example - prominently displaying disclaimers

A bank advertises low credit card interest rates for the first 12 months. The advertisement clearly indicates the low rates are only available to new customers who apply within a certain period. This disclaimer is sufficient because it clearly informs consumers about the terms and conditions.

TIP - Prominently display all disclaimers and small print. 

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Predictions and opinions 

A statement about the future that does not turn out to be true is not necessarily misleading or deceptive.

But promises, opinions and predictions can be misleading or deceptive if the person making the statement:

knew it was false did not care whether it was true or not had no reasonable grounds for making it.

Example – predictions and opinions

A real estate agency was selling apartments with a view of the sea.

The agency assured prospective buyers that the view was protected because the land between the apartment block and the sea was zoned for low-rise development. This was based on information provided by a council officer.

However, the council officer was wrong. The zoning was about to change, allowing high-rise development. The agency had made a false statement about a future matter but had reasonable grounds, so was not liable for misleading consumers.

Legal reference: (2009) 17 TPLJ 25

A court will consider the circumstances and the effect or impact on the consumer when deciding if a prediction or opinion was misleading or deceptive.

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Exceptions for information providers 

'Information providers' include media organisations such as:

radio stations television stations publishers of newspapers or magazines (including online).

They are not subject to misleading and deceptive conduct laws when carrying out their business of providing information.

For example – information providers

A motor car trader who places a misleading advertisement in a major newspaper is liable for misleading or deceptive conduct statements in the advertisement, but the newspaper is not.

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Misleading and deceptive conduct may lead to civil remedies including:

injunctions damages compensatory orders orders for non-party consumers non-punitive orders adverse publicity disqualification orders.

Fines and criminal sanctions do not apply, but penalties may apply if the conduct breaches the Australian Consumer Law in other ways.

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