As Volkswagen Finally Pleads Guilty In Dieselgate Scandal, FCA Now in EPA’s Crosshairs For The Same Crime

Yesterday, German automaker Volkswagen finally plead guilty of trying to cheat in U.S. Federal emissions tests by building and selling certain model-year diesel-engined vehicles with a so-called ‘defeat devices’ fitted in them, a please which will see it pay the U.S. Federal Government more than $4.3 billion in penalties.

Less than 24 hours later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — just one Governmental agency which worked hard to prove Volkswagen was acting illegally — has filed a new Notice of Violation against an automaker who it says is using similar test-beating technology on its own diesel-engined vehicles. This time, the offender is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

The EPA has a new target for Dieselgate: FCA.

In its official paperwork detailing the allegations, the EPA says it believes FCA used illegal software emission control systems on nearly 104,000 U.S. market diesel vehicles fitted with FCA’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine, including 2014-2016 model year Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. And while the EPA didn’t use the term ‘defeat device’ in its official paperwork, it claims to have found eight auxiliary emissions control devices (AECD) that appear to be acting in such a way as to circumvent Federal emissions standards in specific circumstances.

These eight AECD, so far only found in the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine, are essentially software subroutines that appear to have been designed to allow the vehicles in question to pass emissions tests and meet federal standards for Nitrogen Oxides. Not telling the EPA of their existence is illegal, and the EPA wants FCA to explain them and what they do immediately.

Dodge RAM 1500 trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokees are affected.

In the case of Volkswagen, the ‘defeat devices’, essentially the same thing (software algorithms) were programmed to detect if the car was being driven on a dynamometer (as it might be if its emissions were being examined). If it detected such a situation, these defeat devices set the car’s emissions control system to ensure it met U.S. Federal safety standards for tailpipe emissions at the expense of power and fuel economy. The rest of the time however, the emissions control system was programmed to ignore those standards, emitting more than 400 times the legal limit in order to squeeze a few extra miles per gallon or brake horsepower out.

Despite initially denying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assertions that such a device even existed, Volkswagen eventually admitted that its engineers had purposely programmed the system to behave illegally. Naturally, lower management took most of the flack for doing, claiming that those at a higher level had pushed engineers to come up with an affordable solution to what seemed like an impossible problem — and thus cheating was the only option.

It’s not clear if FCA will take the same approach, but if it does, it’s likely that the EPA will act swiftly to make an example out of FCA as it did Volkswagen.

Since the EPA is waiting on FCA’s responses to various pressing questions on the purpose of the AECDs it detected, it has chosen not to disclose that much information on what i believes is going on in the heart of the 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V-6 engines. It did however confirm that even with the AECDs operational, the engines tested at its facilities failed to meet limits set under the Clean Air Act for Nitrogen Oxides.

In response to the official notice of Violation, FCA’s official response was almost defiant in nature, berating the EPA for issuing the notice in the first place.

FCA now has to explain itself to the EPA.

“FCA US is disappointed that the EPA has chosen to issue a notice of violation with respect to the emissions control technology employed in the company’s 2014-16 model year light duty 3.0-liter diesel engines,” the statement reads. “FCA US diesel engines are equipped with state-of-the-art emission control systems hardware, including selective catalytic reduction (SCR).  Every auto manufacturer must employ various strategies to control tailpipe emissions in order to balance EPA’s regulatory requirements for low nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and requirements for engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency. FCA US believes that its emission control systems meet the applicable requirements.”

But perhaps the most distressing part of the statement indicates that FCA believes the impending change in administration will perhaps give it an advantage over Volkswagen and the hefty fines it has faced in the past eighteen months.

“FCA US intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA US customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements.”

Given the fact the incoming administration has already talked about easing EPA restrictions (and the incoming administration is heavy on climate-change skeptics and oil-industry executives) we’ll leave you to decide just what that statement means — implicit or explicit.

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