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Diesel emissions and harsh words from Sergio

by David Zatz on

Back in 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Fiat Chrysler of having eight undeclared “auxiliary emission control devices.” Company spokesman Gualberto Ranieri immediately issued a full and complete denial.

VM diesels

The denial didn’t go over well with Sergio Marchionne — who, in 2015, wrote Ranieri an email asking, “Are you out of your goddam mind?” Volkswagen had tried to pretend it was innocent in what remains the world‘s largest diesel emissions scandal; Marchionne reportedly thought Ranieri should have researched the charges and issued a more nuanced statement.

Bloomberg’s story on the email, which was released as part of a lawsuit, quoted the FCA CEO as saying that the spokesman should be fired, and calling the move “utterly stupid and unconscionable.”

FCA still maintains that it did not intentionally violate the law, which is quite possible given that contractors (including Bosch and a company part-owned by Volkswagen) had a good deal of responsibility for emissions tuning and testing.  Regardless, the VM diesels acted differently in testing than in typical drives, because the computer:

  1. Cut back on exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) as speeds increased, shutting it off entirely at highway speeds
  2. Shut down EGR for exhaust valve cleaning
  3. Disabled emissions fluid during warm-up and while selective catalytic reduction was adapting
  4. Cut back EGR at modeled engine temperatures
  5. Used alternate diesel exhaust fluid dosing modes
  6. Used a load governor to delay refill of the fluid

The system is allowed to cut back on emissions controls to prolong engine and the system’s lifespan, but such “software devices” have to be declared to, and approved by, the EPA.

VM diesel

This programming saved on diesel emission fluid, but dramatically increased the pollution coming from the engines. It seemed reasonable that no FCA employees actually knew of the problem, but the lawsuit has revealed a 2014 email showing that several executives knew that California officials had found defeat devices. Another file claims that an employee had told upper management about the devices.

Sergio Marchionne later said that, unlike Volkswagen, “There has never been an intention on part of FCA to create conditions that are designed to defeat the testing process. That is absolutely nonsense. Anyone that tries to draw the comparison between us and VW is smoking illegal material. … We have done – in our view – nothing that is illegal. ” As for a “rogue” employee deliberately breaking the law,  “There’s not a guy [here] who would try something as stupid.”

FCA officially wrote that it had “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” and had proposed “developing extensive software changes to our emissions control strategies that could be implemented in these vehicles immediately to further improve emissions performance.”

More recently, FCA told Bloomberg it was “It is inappropriate to draw conclusions from isolated communications and internal deliberations, without the more detailed context that is part of the reviews FCA is conducting as part of the investigation process.”

FCA was heavily fined and could not sell VM diesel engines in the US or Canada until the controls were reworked to the EPA’s satisfaction. The EPA has approved the current controls, and buyers can again get Ram 1500 diesels.

None of these issues applied to the company’s heavy duty pickups, which use Cummins diesels.

Readers interested in seeing the full source materials can reference the federal case — Koopman v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., 15-cv-07199, in the Southern District of New York.


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