“Are you out of your goddam mind?” Marchionne asked.
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty)

Back in September 2015, when Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal came to light and shocked the automotive world, Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne lambasted a company spokesperson for saying the company didn’t equip vehicles with illegal software to skirt emissions tests. In Marchionne’s words, he asked: “Are you out of your goddam mind?”

Marchionne’s 2015 email to then-head of FCA’s U.S. communications team, Gualberto Ranieri, was revealed in a document filed Monday in federal court as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the automaker. With regulators and media attention swirling around VW for admitting it used defeat devices on countless diesel vehicles, more than likely Marchionne didn’t want this sort of blanket PR statement floated out to the world, at least until they were sure of what was going on.

That’s the gist you get from reading the excerpt of the email revealed in the filing on Monday, and first reported on by Bloomberg: “Are you out of your goddam mind?” Marchionne asks, before calling the statement “utterly stupid and unconscionable.”

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Screenshot: PACER

FCA has since been accused by the U.S. government of installing defeat devices on more than 100,000 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokees. The automaker denies the allegations.

In a statement to Bloomberg, FCA said Marchionne was peeved simply because the spokesperson decided to opine on “such a significant and complex matter, without the matter having been fully reviewed through the appropriate channels.”

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“This is particularly true given that the statements were made within only a few days of the Volkswagen diesel issue becoming public, and before a comprehensive internal review and discussions with component suppliers was possible,” the statement said. (Marchionne’s remark also speaks to the complexity of emissions laws, and what exactly qualifies as a “cheat device” to circumvent them.)

The email itself was produced by FCA as part of the ongoing federal lawsuit in New York, brought by company shareholders who claim they were misled about vehicle safety problems, including the diesel emissions issues. The document was unsealed on Monday.

Emails previously obtained by Jalopnik show there was intense disagreement internally over the government’s investigation into FCA’s alleged use of defeat devices, and caused internal strife at one of the largest automakers. Jalopnik first reported the feds accused FCA of using a defeat device as early as November 2015.

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But the newly-unsealed document shows investigators from the California Air Resources Board identified defeat devices in Chrysler vehicles as early as October 2014.

“Okay - I agree it is a defeat device, in fact I brought my concern to [calibration engineer Michele Padovan’s] attention way back in the spring,” one October 2014 email says. “CARB has confirmed it for us.”

Another employee claimed to have alerted superiors to the existence of defeat devices and, as Bloomberg noted, “indicated that a description of an emissions control strategy the company provided to regulators was inaccurate in internal messaging communications in 2014.”

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“I brought this up some time back and I got push back,” the employee wrote in an email. “Lol emissions guys are cheaters, and they know it.”

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