Earlier this week the EPA issued a notice of violation to Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) regarding the emission control system on their 3.0-liter diesel engine. At first glance the issue appears to mirror that of the diesel scandal that impacted Volkswagen, which is the event that led to the agency discovering the FCA issue. While the two do have some similarities, there are some major differences when it comes to motive and allegation.
As part of the Clean Air Act (CAA), automakers are required to apply and be granted a certificate of conformity by the EPA for each test group of vehicles the automaker wishes to bring to commerce in the U.S. As part of the application process, automakers are to disclose various details regarding the vehicle’s emission control system, including the use of any auxiliary emission control devices (AECD).
AECD’s are defined in the law as “any element of design which sense temperature, vehicle speed, engine RPM, transmission gear, manifold vacuum, or any other parameter for the purpose of activating, modulating, delaying, or deactivating the operation of any part of the emission control system.”
To put all of that in simple terms, it’s generally software found within the engine control module of a vehicle. AECD’s are often utilized in engines to prevent them from damage in extreme situations by reducing or disabling emissions control temporarily. If the AECD’s are found to be justified by the EPA, they are perfectly legal for the automaker to include in their software code.
However, the AECD’s have to be disclosed on the application for a certificate of conformity and they have to be deemed justified by the agency. This is where things turn south for FCA on the 3.0-liter diesel engine found in the Ram EcoDiesel and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
According to the notice of violation issued by the EPA, FCA’s 3.0-liter models have as many as eight AECD’s, but none of them were disclosed to the agency when the company applied for certificates of conformity. Failing to disclose them is itself a violation.
Volkswagen also failed to disclose its AECD’s in its diesel vehicles.
However, FCA and Volkswagen differ greatly in the types of AECD’s the EPA is alleging they’re utilizing. In Volkswagen’s case, their AECD’s were essentially full-on “defeat devices” designed to trigger only when the vehicle was on the EPA test cycle. Volkswagen referred to the two versions of software as the “dyno code” and the “road code,” the dyno code being the one that gamed the EPA’s test cycle to pass emissions testing.
In FCA’s case, the eight identified AECD’s do not appear to have the mission of gaming the EPA test cycle. That said, the EPA does not feel they are “justifiable” AECD’s either. The eight AECD’s generally reduce or disable the exhaust gas reduction and selective catalyst reduction systems, both pillars in reducing NOx emissions from a diesel engine.
FCA has admitted to using the AECD’s, according to the EPA. In fact, the company issued a voluntary recall on 2015 model year 3.0-liter diesel vehicles to remove one of the eight AECD’s. This particular AECD disabled the exhaust gas reduction system at highway speeds, causing an increase in NOx emissions.
The EPA also alleges that the agency did not find the presence of the AECD’s during their normal test cycle. They were only uncovered after further, atypical cycle testing last year as a response to the Volkswagen scandal. If true, this could suggest that the AECD’s are designed to play the test cycle or it could just be purely circumstantial.
FCA issued an immediate response to the EPA’s allegations this week, saying, in part:
FCA US has spent months providing voluminous information in response to requests from EPA and other governmental authorities and has sought to explain its emissions control technology to EPA representatives. FCA US has proposed a number of actions to address EPA’s concerns, including developing extensive software changes to our emissions control strategies that could be implemented in these vehicles immediately to further improve emissions performance.
It is important to note that the company’s response does not deny their failure to disclose the AECD’s when they applied for a certificate of conformity on the vehicles in question, which is the primary violation at this time. It is possible FCA did not feel the software parameters met the definition of AECD, but the definition in the CAA legislation is fairly clear in that if it messes with the emissions control system, it is an AECD.
Also note FCA states the company is willing to develop “extensive” software changes to satisfy the EPA, another telling sign of this situation. For now the EPA is continuing its investigation into the matter and FCA is fully cooperating with their efforts.
Unless further allegations are uncovered, at this time the FCA situation appears much different than the Volkswagen scandal. The Volkswagen AECD’s were clearly defeat devices intended to game the EPA’s test cycle. FCA’s AECD’s appear to be legitimate to engine performance, but their failure to disclose them is of questionable judgement and certainly a violation of CAA.
As the violation stands today, FCA could face civil penalties of up to $44,539 per vehicle sold with the 3.0-liter diesel engine. The EPA is questioning around 104,000 FCA vehicles, including 2014-2016 Ram EcoDiesel and Jeep Grand Cherokee.