FCA US LLC, a subsidiary of Stellantis, has been ordered by a US federal court to cough up over $400 million for using emissions-cheating devices on the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500.
The company pled guilty and was ordered to pay a fine of US$96.14 million (A$133.88 million) and a forfeiture money judgement of US$203.57 million (A$294 million), with the court also imposing a three-year term of organisational probation.
Both the Jeep and Ram were offered with an EcoDiesel 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 engine which, according to court documents, had software features installed by FCA US designed to help them game federal emissions testing.
A total of 101,482 vehicles from model years 2014 to 2016 equipped with second-generation EcoDiesel V6 engines were affected.
According to the Department of Justice, FCA US calibrated these emissions control systems to produce less NOx emissions during federal driving cycles than these vehicles would produce during typical driving.
FCA US in turn “engaged in deceptive and fraudulent conduct to conceal the emissions impact and function of the emissions control system from its US regulators and US customers”, including providing false and misleading information to US regulators.
It also made false and misleading statements to customers, including providing incorrect information in advertisements and on window labels claiming the vehicles complied with US emissions requirements, had best-in-class fuel efficiency under US Environmental Protection Agency standards, and had “clean EcoDiesel engine[s]” that reduced emissions.
FCA US detailed in court proceedings its use of “cycle beating”, which allowed it to not only pass the federal emissions test procedures but also receive a fuel efficiency rating it could market as best-in-class.
Under the terms of its guilty plea, approved by the court, FCA US will continue to implement a compliance and ethics program and report to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding remediation, implementation and testing of its compliance program and internal controls.
It’ll also continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any investigations relating to this conduct.
Three FCA employees – Emanuele Palma, Sergio Pasini, and Gianluca Sabbioni – have been indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States and for violating the Clean Air Act. They’re awaiting trial.
Stellantis says consumer claims related to the subject vehicles have already been resolved, and no additional recalls are required.
“Today’s sentencing clearly demonstrates that the EPA and our federal partners will hold major corporations like FCA accountable for complying with vehicle emissions standards,” said acting assistant administrator Larry Starfield for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
“Stopping violations of environmental laws and the defrauding of consumers is paramount to the protection of clean air and human health.”
US Attorney Dawn N. Ison called the sentence “an appropriate punishment for a company that schemed to defraud regulators and consumers”.
“All corporations should be transparent and honest in dealing with the federal government and the public,” said Ms Ison.
This case is the latest in a long line of allegations of emissions cheating by automakers, with Volkswagen’s actions – commonly referred to as Dieselgate – perhaps the most infamous.
Stellantis has been taking some steps to move away from diesels, particularly in Australia.
Jeep’s new WL Grand Cherokee isn’t available anywhere with a turbo-diesel V6 like its predecessor – something that has led Jeep Australia’s managing director to say buyers keen on a turbo-diesel Grand Cherokee for its towing capacity should reconsider their needs.
Turbo-diesel V6 engines remain in Stellantis’ North American market line-up, despite the niche appeal of oilers there. In the US, you can buy turbo-diesel V6 versions of the Ram 1500, Jeep Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler. The latter two have never been offered here.
While Australian buyers still buy diesel utes and SUVs in droves, you can no longer buy an EcoDiesel-equipped Ram 1500 here, and there’s only one diesel Jeep left: the Compass Trailhawk.
While diesel engines can be found throughout many of the product lineups of Stellantis brands overseas, some of its brands have been shifting away. Maserati, for example, no longer sells any diesel models as it continues to roll out mild-hybrid and battery-electric vehicles.