MORE than 4,000 Jeep owners in the UK have been dragged into the emissions cheating scandal as America’s environment watchdog levels charges against Fiat Chrysler.
The motor manufacturer was accused last week of installing software in Jeep Grand Cherokee sports utility vehicles and Dodge Ram pick-ups that allowed them to emit more pollution than allowed under US law without revealing the excess emissions in lab tests.
The allegations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) open a new front in the battle against emissions cheating. The practice came to light in September 2015, when Volkswagen admitted using “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests, prompting an international investigation.
The EPA said it was investigating whether software installed by Fiat Chrysler amounted to an illegal defeat device. The company installed the emissions software on 3-litre diesel versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and on Dodge Ram 1500 models from 2014, 2015 and 2016. About 104,000 vehicles in the US are affected.
In Britain, Fiat Chrysler sold 4,235 of the 3-litre diesel Jeep Grand Cherokees in 2014-16, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. No Dodge Rams were registered in that time.
“This is absolute nonsense” — Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat Chrysler
Cynthia Giles of the EPA said: “Failing to disclose software that affects emissions in a vehicle’s engine is a serious violation of the law, which can result in harmful pollution in the air we breathe. We will continue to hold companies accountable that gain an unfair and illegal competitive advantage.”
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat Chrysler, said: “We have done nothing that is illegal. There was never any intent of creating conditions that were designed to defeat the testing process. This is absolute nonsense.” Fiat Chrysler faces a fine of up to $4.6bn if the allegations are proved. Shares in the company had fallen by 16% at one point yesterday.
The EPA said Fiat Chrysler installed “auxiliary emission control devices” in the Jeeps. Some of these “appear to cause the vehicle to perform differently when the vehicle is being tested for compliance with [emissions standards]”.
The devices would be considered illegal unless Fiat Chrysler could establish that they qualified for “one of the narrow exclusions” in federal regulations. If they were found to constitute defeat devices, further charges would follow, the regulator warned.
Volkswagen is facing further investigation by the British government over emissions, as pressure grows on ministers to punish the company. John Hayes, a transport minister, has met VW executives and is pushing for British drivers to be compensated.
VW has faced criticism for not offering compensation to UK motorists while paying out billions in the US. A group of 10,000 British car owners have joined a class action against the company, claiming a total of £30m in compensation.
James Dean, US Business Editor | Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent
This article first appeared in The Times
High price of cheating the system
The only car maker so far to admit to cheating on diesel emissions tests, it admitted in September 2015 that it had fitted 11m vehicles with a device that switched engines to a cleaner mode when they were being tested. It has agreed to pay $17.5bn in compensation to American motorists and a further $4.3bn in criminal and civil penalties to US regulators. Last week six former Volkswagen executives were indicted on criminal charges in the US.
Shortly after the VW scandal broke, Auto Bild, a German car magazine, reported on a study carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which suggested that one of BMW’s X3 models emitted nitrogen oxides at levels 11 times above acceptable European standards. BMW denied manipulating emissions or rigging test results. No charges have been brought.
The US Department of Justice asked Daimler to investigate its emissions certification process for certain vehicles, including some of its Mercedes models, in May 2016, but no charges have been brought. Daimler denies any impropriety.