Justice Department Sues Fiat Chrysler Over Diesel Emissions [Updated]

Regulators say FCA allowed illegal levels of emissions in more than 100,000 vehicles, according to the report. 

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File

It's beginning to look a lot like Dieselgate. The United States Department of Justice intents to file a civil lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over the company's alleged decision to allow more than 100,000 diesel-powered vehicles to be sold in spite of engines that emitted excessive levels of pollution, according to a report from Reuters.  

The Justice Department will file suit on Tuesday, May 23rd, two sources familiar with the matter who spoke with Reuters said.

The lawsuit will reportedly describe the secondary emissions control equipment Fiat Chrysler outfitted to approximately 104,000 Ram 1500s and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the carmaker's 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 sold in model years 2014, 2015, and 2016 as "defeat devices"—the same term the federal government used to describe the emissions-cheating doodads that landed Volkswagen in a multibillion-dollar pot of hot water. 

In a statement issued last week in regards to rumors that the Justice Department might proceed down such a course, Fiat Chrysler wrote, "In the case of any litigation, FCA US will defend itself vigorously, particularly against any claims that the company deliberately installed defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.” (FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has previously described the EPA's actions as "unfair," and described himself as "really pissed off" by reports that imply Fiat Chrysler's problems are analogous to VW's scandal.) 

The U.S. government isn't the first to go sniffing around in FCA's allegedly-dirty exhaust. Earlier this year, the French government said it was investigating FCA over excessive nitrogen oxide emissions from other diesel-powered vehicles. Likewise, the European Union is reportedly considering taking Italy to court over the nation's failure to take reports of FCA's diesel cheating seriously. 

Update, 2:10pm: Fiat Chrysler has released a statement in response to the Justice Department's filing of the civil suit:

"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.

As FCA US announced last week, it has developed updated emissions software calibrations that it believes address the concerns of EPA and CARB, and has now formally filed for diesel vehicle emissions certification with the regulators for its 2017 model year (MY) Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles. 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.

FCA expects that the installation of these updated software calibrations will improve the 2014-2016 MY vehicles’ emissions performance and does not anticipate any impact on performance or fuel efficiency.

Notwithstanding this lawsuit, the Company remains committed to working cooperatively with EPA and CARB to resolve the agencies’ concerns quickly and amicably."