GM accused in lawsuit of using VW-like defeat devices
Automaker says it will 'vigorously defend' itself
General Motors was accused of putting defeat devices in its trucks to beat emissions tests, the sixth carmaker linked to diesel cheating scandal since 2015, when Volkswagen AG admitted to installing software to bypass pollution rules.
People who own or lease more than 705,000 GM Duramax diesel trucks filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming GM installed multiple such devices in two models of heavy-duty trucks from 2011 to 2016. The 190-page complaint is littered with 83 references to VW, and asserts that the environmental damage caused by each truck could surpass that of the German automaker’s vehicles.
GM’s cheating allowed its trucks to pass U.S. inspections, even while they spewed emissions two to five times the legal limit under regular driving conditions, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
"These claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves," GM said in a statement. "The Duramax Diesel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra comply with all U.S. EPA and CARB emissions regulations."
The company's shares fell 1.8 percent to close at $32.60.
The lawsuit was filed by several plaintiffs' law firms including Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which was involved in similar litigation against VW and helped reach multibillion-dollar settlements with that automaker.
"GM claimed its engineers had accomplished a remarkable reduction of diesel emissions,” attorney Steve Berman, a managing partner at Hagens Berman, said in the complaint. Berman has also represented drivers and dealerships against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “These GM trucks likely dumped as much excess poisonous emissions into our air as did the cheating Volkswagen passenger cars.”
Excessive emissions from the GM vehicles exposed the general public to noxious levels of smog, according to the complaint. Diesel engines, while more fuel efficient, produce greater volumes of nitrogen oxide pollutants, or NOx. During on-road testing the diesel trucks polluted at levels beyond legal limits and higher than their gasoline counterparts, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, underscores questions about the credibility of clean-diesel technology. This week, the U.S. Justice Department sued Fiat Chrysler, alleging violations of clean-air rules. Daimler AG is the target of a German probe related to diesel emissions, and French carmakers Renault SA and PSA Group are both being investigated in their home country.
Technology provider Robert Bosch GmbH, which was named as a co-defendant by consumers who sued VW, is also defendant in the GM case, described in the complaint as “an active and knowing participant in the scheme to evade” emissions standards.
A Bosch representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the GM suit.
Representatives of the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Barclays Capital, in a report issued after the lawsuit became public, said the risk of GM having to issue a stop-sale order on the trucks appears to be low.
"Given this is coming from a class action litigation firm, it could just be ‘fishing’ for a settlement around charges of deceptive advertising," the report said. "We’d only know that it’s more serious if the EPA steps in, as they did in the cases of FCA and VW."
But the analysts authoring the report said they "have a tough time seeing this issue easily fading away, which could add an overhang to GM stock on top of cycle and secular disruption concerns."
The case is Fenner v. General Motors LLC, 17-cv-11661, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).
Automotive News and Reuters contributed to this report.
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