United States Files Complaint Against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations
The Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, against FCA US LLC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., V.M. Motori S.p.A., and V.M. North America, Inc. (collectively referred to as FCA). The complaint alleges that nearly 104,000 light duty diesel vehicles containing 3.0 liter EcoDiesel engines are equipped with software functions that were not disclosed to regulators during the certification application process, and that the vehicles contain defeat devices. The complaint alleges that the undisclosed software functions cause the vehicles’ emission control systems to perform differently, and less effectively, during certain normal driving conditions than on federal emission tests, resulting in increased emissions of harmful air pollutants.
The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to obtain a certificate of conformity before introducing a vehicle into commerce, by demonstrating to EPA that the vehicle will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution. Manufacturers must disclose in their certification applications all auxiliary emission control devices (e.g. computer software that affects the performance of emission controls based upon operating parameters of the vehicle), justify the presence of any such devices, and explain why those that reduce the effectiveness of emission controls are not “defeat devices.” Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices cannot be certified.
The complaint alleges that FCA equipped nearly 104,000 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles (Model Years 2014-2016) sold in the United States with at least eight software-based features that were not disclosed in FCA’s applications for certificates of conformity and that affect the vehicles’ emission control systems. The undisclosed software features lessen the effectiveness of the vehicles’ emissions control systems during certain normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emission standards in the laboratory and during standard EPA testing, but during certain normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that are much higher than the EPA-compliant level. The complaint alleges that each of these vehicles differs materially from the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications, and thus the cars are uncertified, in violation of the Clean Air Act. These allegations are consistent with those set forth in notice of violation (“NOV”) that EPA issued to FCA US LLC and FCA NV on Jan. 12, 2017.
Following the issuance of the NOV, EPA continued its investigation into the operation of the undisclosed software-based features. Based upon this investigation, the complaint alleges that one or more of these undisclosed software features, alone or in combination with the others, renders inoperative, bypasses and/or defeats the vehicles’ emission control systems, which were installed to make the vehicles comply with Clean Air Act emission standards. In short, the complaint now alleges that the vehicles contain defeat devices.
NOx pollution contributes to the formation of harmful smog and soot, exposure to which is linked to a number of respiratory- and cardiovascular-related health effects as well as premature death. Children, older adults, people who are active outdoors (including outdoor workers), and people with heart or lung disease are particularly at risk for health effects related to smog or soot exposure. Nitrogen dioxide formed by NOx emissions can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, and may also contribute to asthma development in children.
The civil complaint filed today seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. The United States also filed a notice that it will request to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California.
EPA and the California Air Resources Board are continuing in their discussions with FCA to bring the subject vehicles into compliance with the Clean Air Act and California law. The nature and timing of any resolution of this issue are uncertain.