The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into Ford Motor Co.’s emissions certification process, the automaker disclosed two months after fessing up to an issue with its testing.
Ford, the latest automaker to come under scrutiny for adherence to U.S. emissions standards, is fully cooperating with all government agencies, the automaker said Friday in a regulatory filing. The company said that because the matter is still at a preliminary stage, it can’t predict the outcome or assure investors it won’t have a material impact on the company.
Ford potentially faces significant financial penalties as regulators have taken a tough line on emissions issues.
Ford revealed in February that it had adopted a flawed approach to using road-load specifications to simulate how aerodynamic drag and tire friction can affect fuel economy outside testing labs. It has hired an outside outside law firm, Sidley Austin, and experts to help conduct an investigation that could stretch into the summer.
When Ford disclosed the issue in February, the automaker said “there’s been no determination that this affects Ford’s fuel economy labels or emissions certifications.”
The Justice Department notified the company of its investigation this month, Kim Pittel, Ford's group vice president of sustainability, environment and safety engineering, said in a statement. The Justice Department declined to comment on the Ford probe.
The investigation doesn’t involve the use of so-called “defeat devices” that VW was found to be using to game emissions testing, Pittel said.
Ford shares rose 11 percent to close Friday at $10.41 following a first-quarter report on Thursday that beat Wall Street forecasts.
The automaker since last fall has been investigating concerns raised by employees that incorrect calculations were used to translate test results into the mileage and emissions data submitted to regulators.
Ford said in February it was evaluating changes to the process it uses to develop fuel economy and emissions figures, “including engineering, technical and governance components.”
Ford has held meetings with the California Air Resources Board and EPA officials and turned over documents related to its review, a person briefed on the matter said. The automaker has also submitted a testing plan that has been approved by regulators, the person said. The first vehicle Ford is evaluating is the 2019 Ranger pickup truck.
The EPA also declined to comment on the Ford investigation but Administrator Andrew Wheeler said earlier this month the agency had other enforcement actions against other automakers "in the works."
"When people are not playing by the rules and they are creating more pollution ... we will catch them, we will hold them accountable," Wheeler said.
Ford has been embarrassed in the past by errors with fuel economy claims. In 2013, the company cut by seven miles per gallon the claimed fuel economy on the C-Max hybrid following consumer complaints that real-world mileage did not match the claimed fuel economy. In 2014, Ford lowered fuel economy ratings for six other models and offered compensation to customers.
The latest probe makes Ford at least the fourth major automaker to fall under ederal investigation over emissions in the span of a few years. Volkswagen Group paid a $4.3 billion penalty in 2017 for misleading regulators and customers about diesel engines emissions.
In January, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles agreed to an $800 million civil settlement to resolve claims by the Justice Department and the state of California that it used illegal software to produce false results on diesel-emissions tests. A Justice Department criminal investigation is pending.
U.S. regulators are also investigating Daimler for alleged excess emissions in Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles, but the Justice Department and EPA have declined to comment on the status of the probe. Daimler also has declined to comment, but has previously acknowledged it faces investigations in Germany and the United States.
Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. in 2014 were hit with a $100 million civil penalty after selling roughly 1.2 million vehicles with inflated fuel economy ratings. The inaccurate ratings stemmed from faulty procedures used by the companies to calculate road-load forces.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.