Calling it a "clear and serious violation" of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency said today that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) installed emissions control devices on certain Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and Ram 1500 trucks that allowed them to skirt federal emissions standards.
The devices "cause the vehicle to perform differently when being tested," said EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles.
The EPA stopped short of calling the eight auxiliary emissions control devices (AECDs) it discovered "defeat devices" as it has done with Volkswagen over that brand's non-compliant TDI diesels. It is currently waiting for FCA to "demonstrate why this hidden software isn't a defeat device," Giles told reporters on a conference call.
Today's EPA announcement affects all 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 models equipped with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 engine, which FCA markets as EcoDiesel. That's about 100,000 SUVs and pickups. There are no 2017 model year Grand Cherokee or Ram 1500 EcoDiesel models as the EPA discovered the 8 AECDs while it was attempting to certify the vehicle for the 2017 model year.
The EPA said that the AECDs are software designed to make the vehicles perform differently by emitting considerably lower NOx emissions during testing than in real-world use. Not disclosing the presence of AECDs in a vehicle's software to the EPA is a violation of the Clean Air Act. If the EPA decides that the AECDs are indeed defeat devices that were intentionally installed, it could levy civil fines of up to $44,539 per vehicle, in accordance with the Clean Air Act; that could mean upwards of $4.4 billion in fines.
More than half a dozen Volkswagen executives in Germany have been arrested over that automaker's scandal, but the EPA made no comment regarding FCA's management or engineers.
FCA said in a statement that it "intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably."
The EPA says that the affected Jeeps and Rams are safe to drive, even though they don't meet federal air pollution standards. There is no recall and the agency said that no immediate action will be required from current owners.
2016 Ram 1500 HFE, Denver, CO, April 2016
[Update] FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne spoke in a conference call with reporters after the EPA's initial announcement, where he called the allegations "absolutely nonsense."
Marchionne told reporters that there are big differences between VW's defeat device and what he described as calibrations in the Jeep and Ram engine management systems.
"There is nothing in the current calibration of the Ram 1500 or the Grand Cherokee diesel that distinguishes between a test cycle and normal driving conditions," Marchionne said.
The executive also suggested that there may be a political motive behind the EPA's decision to make its announcement on the FCA 3.0-liter V-6 this week.
"I don’t want to speculate as to whether this thing has got any sort of political impute, but we find it very, very strange that it would happen the week before this administration changes over," he said.