A mere two months after Volkswagen was exposed as cheating emissions tests with scores of diesel cars, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also suspected some of Fiat Chrysler’s diesel vehicles were exceeding legal emissions limits, according to emails obtained by Jalopnik.
In January 2017, FCA was issued a notice of violation by the EPA, which said 104,000 diesel V6 Jeep and Ram vehicles made between 2014 and 2016 were allegedly equipped with so-called “defeat devices.” And last month, the government filed suit against FCA for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act by installing at least eight undisclosed defeat devices on the 3.0-liter diesel vehicles.
The notice of violation was issued in the waning days of former President Barack Obama’s administration, giving off the impression that, perhaps, his EPA wanted to take action on certain measures before it departed.
But the emails obtained by Jalopnik show the government had raised concerns to FCA about emissions problems as early as November 2015, just after Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal emerged. It appears to be the earliest interaction between FCA and the regulator over the alleged emissions violations known to date.
In the notice of violation issued in January, the EPA said it had instituted an “expanded testing program to screen for defeat devices on light duty vehicles” in September 2015, following the revelations of Dieselgate.
As it turns out, the emails—obtained by Jalopnik under the Freedom of Information Act—show the EPA discovered problems with FCA fairly quickly.
On Jan. 7, 2016, Byron Bunker, director of the EPA’s vehicle compliance program, sent an email to Vaughn Burns, FCA North America’s head of vehicle emissions, certification and compliance, requesting a conference call.
“I am very concerned about the unacceptably slow pace of the efforts to understand the high NOx emissions we have observed from several [redacted] vehicles with the [redacted],” Bunker wrote, adding that one of the auxiliary emission control devices, or AECD, appears “to me to violate EPA’s defeat device regulations.”
(AECDs are legal—if they’re used for appropriate reasons, such as protecting the engine from damage during high-stress drive cycles—but they must be disclosed to the EPA.)
Four days later, FCA’s head of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance, Mike Dahl, reached out to Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, saying he wanted to discuss issues the regulator had raised about an unspecified FCA emissions control system. FCA, Dahl said, “takes very seriously the concerns your office has raised.”
“After you identified these concerns at the November 25, 2015 meeting with my staff, FCA has been engaged in extensive efforts to analyze the issues, have conducted our own bench and road emissions testing, have communicated throughout that time with your team, and have sought to respond to your inquiries transparently, and as rapidly as possible under the circumstances,” Dahl wrote.
As I am sure you can appreciate, conclusions regarding possible noncompliance of FCA’s engine design, as violating EPA’s “defeat device” regulations, are conclusions of a legal nature with potentially significant regulatory and commercial consequences. We believe the best course is for both FCA and your team to reserve conclusions on that question until we both are comfortable that we fully and fairly have a mutual understanding of the complex technical facts of our emissions control strategy, of FCA’s rationale for the strategies, and a full and complete mutual understanding of your views. At that point, FCA is committed to cooperating with you to address any issues in an appropriate manner.
A FCA spokesperson declined to comment. The EPA didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.
The emails show throughout 2016, the EPA and FCA were regularly communicating about the alleged violations, and appears to indicate that additional testing was done.
A meeting in June 2016, for instance, was planned with both sides so FCA could “discuss their findings on the information we sent them on the testing we did at the Fowlerville test track” a couple months prior, one EPA official wrote.
And the emails suggest that the EPA was planning to make an announcement in December, but it’s unclear if it was related to the notice of violation. Grundler wrote in an email dated Nov. 30, 2016 that then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wanted to speak with FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne.
The government’s primary complaint in the suit is that FCA did not disclose certain software features on the cited diesel 104,000 Rams 1500s and Jeep Grand Cherokees, Jalopnik reported in May. The software reduced emissions controls effectiveness, even under certain “normal driving” conditions.
This month, a new study from researchers at the University of California found technical documents that indicate Bosch—the auto supplier that was implicated in the Dieselgate scandal and is cited in the government’s suit against FCA—code was use in a defeat device for a FCA vehicle.
And researchers who uncovered the VW cheating released the results of tests on FCA vehicles and said it discovered NOx output of three to 20 times the limit set under the Clean Air Act. (FCA disputed the latter findings, saying: “this testing appears to have been commissioned by a plaintiffs’ law firm for purposes of litigation.”)
The automaker has proposed a software fix to address the EPA’s concerns, but the regulator still went forward with its suit. The government said it could take “months” to review the proposed fix.
FCA has denied the allegations and said it will “defend itself vigorously,” and the stakes are high for the automaker: The EPA estimated the financial liability for allegedly installing a defeat device on each of the 104,000 vehicles cited could end up costing FCA up to $4.6 billion.
Update 4:18 P.M.:
FCA has responded to Jalopnik’s request for comment:
FCA US has recently been made aware that a series of emails between FCA US and the EPA have been made available through a Freedom of Information Act request. These emails demonstrate that FCA US has been meaningfully engaged with the EPA regarding its diesel engine emissions for an extended period of time. They also show that FCA US has and continues to take the EPA’s concerns seriously, and that FCA US has engaged in extensive emissions testing of its diesel vehicles in response to the EPA.
FCA US has formally filed an application for diesel vehicle emissions certification with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for its 2017 model year (MY) Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles. FCA US has updated the emissions software calibrations in this MY 2017 certification proposal.
The updated calibrations are the result of many months of close collaboration between FCA US and EPA and CARB, including extensive testing of the vehicles, to clarify issues related to the Company’s emissions control technology. FCA US continues to discuss improved software calibrations with the agencies. Subject to the permission of EPA and CARB, FCA US intends to install the same modified emissions software in 2014-2016 MY Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles. FCA US believes this will address the agencies’ concerns regarding the emissions software calibrations in those vehicles.
While FCA intends to continue working with EPA and CARB on certifying and implementing updated emissions control software that will facilitate a prompt resolution of this matter, FCA will, pending such a resolution, vigorously defend itself in court against any claims that it engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.
Additional reporting by David Tracy.