Fiat Chrysler has been accused of using illegal software that might cheat in emissions tests

Fiat Chrysler accused of using emissions test cheating software

Image credit: Reuters

Fiat Chrysler has been accused by the US Environmental Agency (EPA) on Thursday of using illegal software to conceal excess diesel engine emissions.

The Italy-headquartered car maker has objected to the accusations, which put the company into a similarly bad light as its rival Volkswagen. Volkswagen was convicted of installing so-called defeat devices into its diesel-powered vehicles on a large scale in 2015.

The EPA said it found evidence that some 104,000 trucks and SUVs sold by Fiat in the US since 2014 had been fitted with ‘undisclosed software’ that could possibly have altered results of emissions tests.

The EPA, as well as California Air Resources Board, issued notices of law violation to the car maker, whose representatives reacted with dismay to the accusations.

“The way that it has been described, I think, has been unfair to FCA, and that is the thing that disturbs me most,” said Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne at a news conference on Thursday evening.

He denied the company ever attempted to create software dedicated to concealing emissions in tests and maintained that EPA and Fiat Chrysler could have settled the issue in “a more efficient way”.

“I’m really pissed off,” he said in response to a comparison of Fiat’s problems to the infamous VWgate.

He said the controversial software criticised by the EPA was designed to protect the engine and that Fiat was already moving towards updating it.

The EPA said it found at least eight undisclosed pieces of software that can alter how a vehicle emits air pollution. However, the agency’s official Cynthia Giles admitted the agency had not yet decided whether to label this illegal software as a defeat device.

The Fiat investigation was part of an ongoing EPA review of car makers’ practices in the wake of the VWgate scandal.

In September 2015, it was revealed that Volkswagen had fitted some 580,000 diesel-powered vehicles sold in the USA with technology designed to detect when the vehicles are being tested for emissions and trigger systems for mitigating the emissions. In real driving conditions, the vehicles were emitting 40 times the legally permissible levels of nitrogen oxides.

Globally, some 11 million vehicles were fitted with the technology.

The questioned Fiat models are Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-litre diesel engine manufactured between 2014 and 2016. Fiat said it has no plans to stop selling the vehicles in the USA.

The car-maker plans to contest the charge, which will push the resolution of the issue into the administration of Donald Trump, who said he would ease environmental policies put in place by Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, Volkswagen agreed to pay $4.3bn in criminal and civil fines and pleaded guilty to three felonies for misleading regulators and selling polluting vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler could face fines of $44,539 per vehicle if it is proven that it violated emissions rules.

European regulators have also raised questions about Fiat Chrysler diesels.

Last autumn, Germany wrote a letter to the European Commission accusing FCA of using an illegal device to switch off exhaust treatment systems in diesel engines in Fiat and Jeep vehicles sold in Europe.

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