The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday that it is looking into emissions-control software in more than 100,000 diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram pickup trucks, which manufacturer Fiat Chrysler (FCA) failed to disclose to regulators as required by law.
While the EPA wasn’t ready to call the software a “defeat device” like the software at the center of Volkswagen’s costly emissions scandal, the agency conceded that so far Fiat Chrysler’s software does appear to cheat emissions requirements in violation of the Clean Air Act.
“The software is designed such that during the emissions tests, Fiat Chrysler’s diesel cars meet the standards that protect clean air,” an EPA official told reporters on a conference call, according to NPR. “However, under some other kinds of operating conditions, including many that occur frequently during normal driving, the software directs the emissions control system to operate differently, resulting in emissions that can be much higher.”
The EPA official said that the circumstances that trigger the software to turn emissions off include “driving at high speeds and for an extended period,” resulting in unlawfully excessive releases of nitrogen oxide.
The software was found in model year 2014, 2015, and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the U.S. The EPA’s investigation remains ongoing and it’s unclear at this time whether other Fiat Chrysler models and model years will be added.
Although the exact nature of Fiat Chrysler’s emissions software is still under scrutiny, EPA enforcement head Cynthia Giles said, “this is a clear and serious violation of the Clean Air Act. There is no doubt the devices are contributing to illegal pollution.”
“FCA did not disclose the existence of certain auxiliary emission control devices … despite being aware that such a disclosure was mandatory,” the EPA said. “By failing to disclose this software and then selling vehicles that contained it, FCA violated important provisions of the Clean Air Act.”
Under the Clean Air Act, automakers are required to demonstrate through a certification process that vehicles meet federal emissions standards intended to reduce air pollution. This process involves disclosing and explaining the presence of any “auxiliary emissions control devices” (AECDs), which Fiat Chrysler did not do, according to the EPA.
EPA announced its findings just days after federal officials pressed criminal charges against six high-ranking Volkswagen executives who allegedly played a role in designing and implementing secret defeat devices designed to cheat on emissions tests. One of the VW executives charged, Oliver Schmidt, is accused of misleading U.S. officials investigating the emissions cheat.
“It has become apparent that many automobile manufacturers are now utilizing software to cheat their way around the Clean Air Act by simply misrepresenting the emissions of nitrogen oxide from their vehicles,” said Beasley Allen lawyer W. Daniel “Dee” Miles, III, head of the firm’s Consumer Fraud Section. Miles is one of the 22 attorneys appointed by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to the Plaintiffs Steering Committee for civil litigation related to the VW emissions cheat. “These vehicles that produce excessive emissions of nitrogen oxide are not legal, they don’t belong on our roads and the use of computer software to produce phony emissions readings is fraudulent,” he said.
Fiat Chrysler said that it has provided “voluminous information” about its technology to the EPA, but the agency maintains that the company has failed to explain the device, according to Law360.