The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and FCA LLC (collectively FCA) last week.
The alleged violations regarding FCA’s failure to disclose engine management software in approximately 104,000 vehicles sold in the United States, according to an EPA press release published on Jan. 12.
The notice against FCA came only one day after the Justice Department announced that Volkswagen AG (VW) agreed to plead guilty to cheating on emission tests and pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties, according to an EPA press release published Jan. 11.
That same day, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued their own notice of violation against FCA, stating that 14,000 of these vehicles are on the road in California, according to a CARB press release published Jan. 12.
The FCA violated the Clean Air Act in failing to disclose certain software in its applications for certification for model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks, according to the EPA.
The EPA and CARB are “interested in what the devices do and whether they’re legal or not,” Dave Clegern, a spokesman for CARB, told AccuWeather.
The devices in question alters how the Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) control system operates, resulting in increased NOx emissions. The presence of NOx gas in the air causes ozone to form, which is dangerous to breathe in.
“This is a public health issue for us,” said Clegern.
Pollutants such as NOx cause and increase severity of a variety of health issues, including asthma and cardio-pulmonary disease and more, according to the CARB press release. Air quality issues are commonplace in California, where about 10 million people live in a zone where ozone levels are considered dangerous.
The EPA and CARB are conducting their own investigations of the software, which will determine whether the Auxiliary Emission Control Devices (AECDs) are considered “defeat devices,” which are undisclosed AECDs that reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system.
VW plead guilty to using these illegal devices in 590,000 diesel vehicles. Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who stepped down in September 2015, denied his involvement in the creation of the software in a testimony in Berlin, according to Bloomberg Technology.
The devices “are occasionally allowed if they’re disclosed and there’s a good reason for them being in place,” said Clegern. The associations allow their use for reasons such as the presence of extreme driving conditions that could damage the engine.
Clegern said that the FCA case is not yet at the scope of the VW case.
“And I don’t know that it will get to that point,” said Clegern.
The cases are linked in terms of the agencies’ enhanced testing procedures.
During the VW scandal, enhanced testing cycles for both the EPA and CARB were developed and enforced.
In the VW case, the defeat device activated certain emission control systems and strategies only during the vehicle certification testing, according to a CARB press release published on Dec. 20.
The device would turn off the systems when the vehicle was actually driven on the road. This process resulted in NOx emissions above the California and federal certification limits.
The enhanced testing procedures include measures such as modified test procedures in the lab and testing of emissions while the car is being driven on the road.
“They’re now becoming part of the standard tests and they make it somewhat more tricky for these vehicles to be developed in a way that one set of continuous conditions can be avoided when they’re being tested,” said Clegern.
The investigations will answer important questions for the EPA and CARB that will allow each agency to make decisions on possible consequences for FCA.
“We’re still trying to figure out…why these devices are there and what they’re supposed to accomplish,” said Clegern.