The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) have this week issued a notice of violation to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that alleges their 3.0-liter RAM EcoDiesel and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel are skirting smog laws.
It all started in September of 2015 when the Volkswagen TDI scandal known as Dieselgate broke. It poisoned the waters for all the manufacturers, the EPA and CARB notifying them all they would start spot checking their vehicles to see if they too were breaking the laws.
Fast forward to 2017, just on the heels of the Detroit Auto Show where FCA was noticeably absent, EPA and CARB issued them a notice of violation stating that some 104,000 RAM 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokees built from 2014 and 2016 with the 3.0 diesel have software modes that allow them to emit illegal levels of nitrogen oxides (Nox).
While this is very similar to the matter with Volkswagen, the EPA and CARB are not outright alleging the FCA vehicles have “defeat devices” designed specifically to cheat emissions tests. Instead, they are questioning code buried in the engine control software that has previously undisclosed modes that allow the engine to over-pollute in some instances.
The heart of the matter is that the Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to disclose all software operating modes during the certification process that affect emissions performance. In testing and investigation, the EPA and CARB have uncovered what they call an “Alternate Emission Control Device” (AECD), a software mode that had not been disclosed by FCA and to date has not adequately been explained by the manufacture.
So what’s happening now is the EPA and CARB are diving in deep to investigate the matter to see if in fact FCA’s software deliberately skirts emissions tests or pollutes in an illegal way. At the same time FCA has responded, saying they are working with the government to straighten this matter out.
In a statement issued by FCA, they vehemently defend their vehicles saying, “FCA looks forward to the opportunity to meet with the EPA’s enforcement division and representatives of the new administration to demonstrate that FCA US’s emissions control strategies are properly justified and thus are not “defeat devices” under applicable regulations and to resolve this matter expeditiously. “
And that’s the rub here. The background here is that the EPA and CARB generally hate diesels with a passion. Under the Obama administration they were akin to a pack of angry piranhas, where under the incoming Trump administration, this matter might be dealt with a little differently. Time will tell.
In the meantime, owners of the 2014-2016 RAM 1500 and Jeep Cherokee EcoDiesel vehicles don’t need to do anything. Don’t call your dealer and panic. Once the EPA, CARB and FCA work the matter out, a recall will likely come to remedy the matter likely with software tweaks.
As with the Volkswagen TDI scandal, this is serious business and it’s way to early to tell where it’s headed. This one feels a little different though, FCA is coming out swinging with a healthy defensive tone and the EPA is playing it a little softer this time around, not so cock sure they’ve got a crime to hang for. We’ll see.