Fiat Chrysler will significantly modify scores of late model diesel vehicles to reach a settlement with government officials convinced that the Italian automaker is involved in a fuel emission scandal.
The company said Friday it plans on updating the software systems of more than 100,000 late model Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 diesels. Fiat is making the move despite maintaining it has not engaged in a scandal like the one that has engulfed Volkswagen since 2015.
Justice Department officials have been investigating Fiat since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Fiat in January of cheating the government’s clean-air rules. The company said it would continue to fight accusations it affixed so-called cheat devices to their vehicles to dupe regulators.
Fiat sold more than 50,000 diesel Rams in 2015 and 2016, a number far outmatching those sold by other competitors in the diesel market. EPA has yet to approve and certify the company to sell those models this year until Fiat can rig up a fix sufficient to satisfy the Justice Department.
Researchers argue the Italian car marker’s diesel vehicles have suspiciously high pollution levels and that there was evidence the company used software intended to allow a vehicle’s emissions to pass legal muster at idle but not on the highway moving at top speed.
Dan Carder, a director at West Virginia University’s vehicle emission program, told reporters Thursday a diesel produced more than 20 times as much nitrogen oxides on the road than in idle position. A Jeep Grand Cherokee produced as much as five times more.
“It suggests different emission control versus what’s in the laboratory,” he said, without elaborating on whether the Fiat vehicles were manipulated to fool emission tests. It’s normal for diesel vehicles to have higher emission levels during driving conditions, he said, but, “when you get to five times that’s kind of eye raising.”
Fiat is fighting charges that it has stumbled into a scandal akin to the one VW has been dealing with for two years. Company officials pleaded guilty earlier this year to tampering with the emission devices on 500,000 vehicles. It was sentenced to three years of probation and forced to pay billions of dollars in penalties.
VW admitted in 2015 to installing so-called defeat devices in hundreds of thousands of diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. The devices would only kick on during road conditions when emission measuring tools were not engaged.
Part of the agreement requires the company to doll out payments to various plaintiffs, such as the state of New York, which will use $115 million for environmental projects to improve air quality, and another $30 million to the state’s general fund.
All told, VW agreed to spend up to $25 billion to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers and to make buy-back offers.
VW executives were charged in January of conspiring to dupe regulators on the environmental quality of its diesel vehicles. Oliver Schmidt, the first executive for the German automaker to be arrested in connection with the emission scandal, was among those charged.
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