U.S EPA suspected Fiat Chrysler of using ‘defeat device’ in 2015

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U.S. controllers told Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in November 2015 that they suspected some of the automaker’s vehicles were equipped with secret software allowing them to violate emission control standards, as per emails revealed on Friday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board blamed Fiat Chrysler in January for using the software, known as a “defeat device,” to illegally allow excess diesel emissions in 104,000 U.S. 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks.

Byron Bunker, director of the EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality compliance division, said in a January 2016 email to Fiat Chrysler, obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act, that he was “very concerned about the unacceptably slow pace” of the automaker’s efforts to clarify high nitrogen oxide emissions from some of its vehicles.

Nitrogen oxide is linked to smog formation and respiratory issues.

Bunker’s email said the EPA had told Fiat Chrysler officials at a November 2015 meeting that no less than one auxiliary emissions control gadget on the auto maker’s vehicles seemed to violate the agency’s regulations.

Mike Dahl, head of vehicle security and regulatory compliance for Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. unit, reacted in a separate email that the organization was working diligently and understood the EPA’s concerns. He included that if the EPA identified Fiat Chrysler vehicles as containing thrashing gadgets it would result in “potentially significant regulatory and commercial consequences.”

Thedocuments redacted the vehicles named, but two officials briefed on the matter said they referred to diesel models.

The EPA’s November 2015 meeting with Fiat Chrysler came two months after Volkswagen AG, mired in a major tailpipe emissions scandal , confessed to installing secret defeat device software in hundreds U.S. diesel cars to make them appear cleaner than they were on the road.

At an event in Venice on Friday, Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said he was “confident of the fact that there was no intention on our part to set up a defeat gadget that was even remotely like what (Volkswagen) had in their autos.”

Fiat Chrysler said in an announcement, meanwhile, that the emails showed it had been “meaningfully engaged with the EPA regarding its diesel motor emissions for an extended period of time.”

In Venice, Marchionne additionally said he expected regulators will soon approve a software fix that will allow the organization to offer 2017 U.S. diesel models. A similar fix will be used to update and resolve concerns around 2014-2016 cars, he said.

The Justice Department sued Fiat Chrysler in May, saying it placed eight undeclared “defeat devices” in 2014-2016 Fiat Chrysler diesel vehicles that led “substantially” higher than allowable levels of nitrogen oxide.

The department additionally has a separate criminal test into the matter.

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