Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, part of the Stellantis group, was sentenced Tuesday to pay a U.S. $300 million criminal penalty over diesel engines that polluted more than they were allowed by regulations.
The Detroit federal court’s decision is a result of a Justice Department investigation and includes a fine of $96.1 million and a forfeiture of $203.6 million. The penalties also included three years organizational probation, and three employees are awaiting trial over technologies that allegedly aimed to defraud the U.S. and violate the Clean Air Act.
At the center of the controversy are 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 models with the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6, badged EcoDiesel and supplied by Italy’s VM Motori.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, New York City, Jan 2014
The penalty is the result of a case that goes back to 2017, and the Trump administration, when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) alleging that “defeat device” software allowed these vehicles to emit lower emissions levels during official test cycles than they did in real-world use, specifically in nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The scandal closely mirrors—on a much smaller scale—Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal that broke in 2015. That led to closer scrutiny over other diesel models, and the realization that VW perhaps wasn’t the only one aiming to circumvent the rules. The additional emissions of VW’s violations will cause 1,200 additional deaths in Europe alone, a 2015 MIT study projected. That led to a massive settlement for U.S. states, including the formation of Electrify America.
2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE
The government did note that FCA had previously paid $311 million civil penalty and $183 million in compensation to 63,000 owners. The latter was the result of a class-action lawsuit and consent decree with authorities, under which FCA agreed to update these vehicles’ emissions software, provide an extended warranty, and compensate owners up to $3,075 per vehicle.
FCA had cooperated with the EPA and CARB, leading to a 2019 recall of the trucks in which modified emissions software was deployed.