EPA Accuses Chrysler Of Diesel Emissions Cheating

It’s deja vu all over again. Yesterday, the EPA accused Chrysler of deliberately installing software that allows certain diesel engines sold in its vehicles in the United States to exceed pollution limits set by the agency. Chrysler stock plunged 15% on the news before trading was halted. It latter recovered somewhat but still finished the trading day down 10%.

Dodge Ram diesel pickup

Nitrous Oxides Are A Health Risk

Like the diesel emissions scandal that swept over Volkswagen in 2015, at issue is the level of nitrous oxide emissions from the vehicles affected. Nitrous oxides are considered far more of a health risk than carbon dioxide, especially for the young, the elderly, and those with preexisting respiratory conditions.

Cynthia Giles, an assistant administrator at the E.P.A., tells the press that nitrous oxides “threatens public health by polluting the air we breathe,” said  She said the software in question allowed the engines in question to spew more of them out their tailpipes than permitted by regulations. She said there is “no doubt” that the software “is contributing to illegal pollution.”

The EPA alleges that 104,000 Chrysler vehicles are involved, including Jeep Grand Cherokees from model year 2014, 2015, and 2016. Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks with 3 liter diesel engines sold are also involved. EPA regulations call for a maximum penalty of $44,500 for each non-conforming vehicle.

Why Now?

The fact that the EPA initiated this action just days before President Obama leaves office is no coincidence. No one expects Trump’s EPA to care one way or the other about human health. Instead, its focus will be on gutting as many environment regulations as possible to promote manufacturing. Whether people die as a result is of no concern to The Donald.

“It’s very important that they’re doing this now,” says Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group. “They’ve got polluter lobbyists massing at the gate of both Congress and the White House. This case underscores the importance of keeping a federal environmental cop on the beat at E.P.A.”

Sergio Marchionne, the mercurial CEO of Fiat Chrysler, was quick to blast the EPA action.  “There’s not a guy” at Chrysler “who would try something as stupid” he told reporters during a conference call. “We don’t belong to a class of criminals,” he added. “We have done, in our view, nothing that is illegal.”

That last part may be a reference to the fact that Volkswagen has just entered guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act, and to customs violations and obstruction of justice. In addition, six Volkswagen executives have been indicted on various criminal charges.

Has Fiat Acted In Bad Faith?

Notwithstanding Marchionne’s remarks, Fiat is in plenty of hot water with European authorities over similar diesel cheating allegations. Fiat was the only company who failed to send a representative to a recent meeting between EU regulators and car makers. Ignoring the meeting seriously annoyed EU officials. Tests have confirmed that Fiat used the simplest means yet to discovered to defeat diesel emissions testing. In Europe, the testing protocol is 20 minutes long. Fiat allegedly simply programmed all its emissions controls to shut off after 22 minutes.

Diesel emissions cheating is rampant in the industry, driven by manufacturers’ desire to be able to advertise high fuel economy. Chrysler’s decision to offer the 3 liter diesel engine in its Ram 1500 pickup trucks allowed it to trumpet that its trucks got better fuel economy than those from Ford and Chevrolet. It is no coincidence that Ford has just announced it will offer a diesel engine in its own light duty pickup truck, the F 15o, starting in 2018.

John German, senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, whose initial work on Volkswagen’s emissions levels exposed cheating by that company, sys the E.P.A case against Chrysler was not as clear cut but he expects the company to have difficulty defending itself against the government’s accusations.

“Fiat Chrysler will not only have to defend their software, but prove that it does the bare minimum to protect the car’s engines,” Mr. German says. The complexity of modern diesel technology and the trade-offs between emissions controls and engine performance have motivated companies Fiat Chrysler to cut corners, he says. “It’s very enticing to take shortcuts,” he said. “But it’s absolutely possible for a diesel car to fully comply with U.S. emissions standards and have good drivability and performance. It just costs money.”

Diesels Are Different

In general, regulators permit manufacturers to decrease or eliminate pollution controls on diesel engines at certain times to protect them from damage from overheating and other factors. Many diesel engines have difficulty handling internal moisture from condensation at start-up, especially in cold weather. The rules allow the pollution controls to be bypassed at such times, but several manufacturers have pushed the rules beyond their logical intent.

Tests by independent laboratories have found some companies have set their software to turn off when ambient temperatures are as high as 70 degrees F, meaning they operate in some climates virtually pollution control free during much of their useful life, depending on what climate they operate in.

A report released by the The International Council on Clean Transportation just last week says that diesel emissions from cars are as much as ten times higher than those from heavy duty trucks and buses, primarily because testing protocols for commercial vehicles are much more stringent and done in the real world rather than in laboratories. The ICCT was instrumental in exposing the extent of the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating.

What About The Future?

Diesel engines have been favored by manufacturers and governments for decades. Not only are they more fuel efficient than gasoline engines, when designed for commercial use they can last far longer. Diesel engines in buses often go at least a million miles before any major servicing is needed. Diesels are also famous for their abundant low end torque.

Electric motors also have strong pulling power as they have maximum torque at 0 rpm. The way out of the diesel pollution crisis that grips the world is not more or better software, it is a transition to non-polluting, clean  electric vehicles with no tailpipe emissions whatsoever. The dawn of electric trucks and buses is rapidly approaching.

Source: New York Times


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.