Another black eye is the last thing the diesel engine needs right now. But thanks to the presence of some possibly illegally undisclosed software in the engine controls of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine in two Fiat Chrysler vehicles, the diesel has another industrial-strength shiner today.
To get you up to speed:
Last week the EPA and the California Air Resources Board served Fiat Chrysler with a notice of violation after it found what it claims are eight illegal Auxiliary Emissions Control Devices, or AECDs, in the 2014-16 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine.
After Volkswagen’s deliberate diesel emissions violations, the EPA last fall began stringent on-road testing that actually measures tailpipe emissions on the road in real-world driving conditions. Prior to that, emissions compliance testing was based mostly on lab tests and by automakers testing and self-certifying their own vehicles.
In one particular test, US06, the diesel Ram and Jeep put out too much nitrogen oxide, or NOx. The US06 test includes several high-speed runs and fast acceleration and deceleration maneuvers. EPA testers claim during the tests that the Jeep and Ram emit as much as eight times the legal amount of NOx.
FCA says it can fix the 103,828 vehicles with a software package it has ready for installation. What FCA doesn’t say -- and this could be an extremely important development that lawyers specializing in class action lawsuits will surely be watching -- is whether the software patch reduces fuel economy or towing capacity.
If the fuel economy or horsepower rating decrease after the new software is installed, it could cost FCA big bucks to reimburse consumers who bought vehicles based on those claims.
If the software patch changes the performance of the vehicles, FCA would likely have to follow Hyundai-Kia, Ford, BMW and others and offer cash to customers. In December, a California law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against FCA, claiming the diesel Jeep and Ram emitted too much NOx.
Hagens Berman, the law firm, estimates that consumers who bought a diesel Jeep or Ram paid a premium of $4,700 for the engine.
One supplier, Germany’s Robert Bosch, which sells fuel injection, engine control and emissions equipment, is also named in the suit.
It’s not clear whether FCA will have to pay fines because of the AECDs. The EPA has the authority to levy a fine of more than $44,000 per vehicle.
FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne seemed to indicate last week in an interview on CBNC that the AECDs are legally in place because they protect the engine from damage -- which is a legal use. Still, automakers must inform the EPA of the presence of AECDs.