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FiatChrysler’s 3.0-L Ecodiesel V6 remains clouded by controversy regarding the company’s alleged ministrations to misguide U.S. regulatory agencies about the engine’s emissions. (FCA)

Diesel darkness won’t go away

New fines and criminal charges related to cloaking excessive emissions continue to complicate diesel’s light-vehicle future.

Although it may takes years to avoid instantly associating the words “diesel” and “scandal,” Volkswagen – the auto company most closely linked with the diesel emissions-cheating scheme that brought billions of dollars in fines, criminal prosecutions and probably everlasting infamy – seems to have turned the corner. At least in terms of public perception.

But diesel technology itself and the lengths to which automakers apparently went to cloak its difficult-to- fix emissions “profile,” cannot put the scandal to rest. In one week in September, Mercedes-Benz was fined nearly $1 billion by a German court for diesel-emissions cheating, two high-ranking VW executives were charged with market manipulation related to VW’s so-called “Dieselgate” plot and a criminal indictment was brought in the U.S. against a senior FiatChrysler Automobile (FCA) engineer in relation to misleading American regulators about excess emissions from an FCA diesel V6 used in some of the company’s most-popular models.

FCA trouble resurfaces
For FCA, charges filed against Emanuele Palma allege that he conspired with others to mislead regulators about the diesel V6’s emissions, said a Bloomberg report. Palma is said to have led the team of engineers responsible for calibration of the engine that was promoted as a fuel-efficiency showpiece for large vehicles such as the Ram 1500 pickup truck and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Bloomberg report said it is suspected the strategy to use special calibration to mask the diesel’s emissions during testing, may have been in place from 2011 to 2017.

The charges against Palma include conspiracy to violate the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Now-deceased FCA chief-executive Sergio Marchionne became embroiled in the controversy, insisting that the company did not intend to deliberately mislead regulators or in any fashion “cheat” in certificating testing of the engine. After protracted negotiations, FCA announced in May, 2017 that it intended to file for emissions certification of the engine following installation of “updated emissions-software calibration.” The company also said the filing for certification was “the result of many months of close collaboration between FCA U.S. and EPA and CARB, including extensive testing of the vehicles, to clarify issues related to the Company’s emissions control technology.”

FCA subsequently paid an $800-million fine in January 2019 to settle suits from individual states, vehicle owners and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. The 3.0-L Ecodiesel V6 was not listed in FCA’s press information as available for the 2020 Grand Cherokee, but is shown as available for the 2020 Ram 1500 pickup.

Both of FCA’s chief pickup-truck competitors, Ford and General Motors, have relatively new diesel engines available for their 2020 light-duty pickups. Neither Ford or GM has been associated with any diesel-engine emissions irregularities and GM engineers have said that careful collaboration with regulators regarding emissions compliance for its light-duty pickup diesel – an all-new inline design – led to a brief delay in the engine’s retail availability.

Germany extracts more reparation
On the same day that charges were filed against VW’s, Reuters reported that Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, agreed to pay 870 million euros (about $957 million) for breaking European Union diesel-emissions rules.

“The [Stuttgart] prosecutors' office said Daimler had negligently violated its supervisory duties starting in 2008. As a result, certain diesel vehicles were certified despite exceeding emissions thresholds in some cases, it added,” said the wire-service report. Porsche and Germany-based Bosch also paid heavy fines to Stuttgart courts in 2019 to settle similar charges.

At VW, chief executive Herbert Diess, chairman Hans Dieter Potsch and former CEO Martin Winterkorn were charged by German prosecutors with not expeditiously informing the public and financial markets about the potential financial implications of the diesel cheating.

In a statement reported by Bloomberg, VW said, “The company has meticulously investigated this matter with the help of internal and external legal experts for almost four years. The result is clear: the allegations are groundless.”

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