Ram 1500Getty Images file photo Fiat Chrysler says it is updating faulty emissions software on Ram 1500 diesel pickup trucks for the 2014-16 model years. next play/pause pre
Fiat Chrysler says it will modify about 100,000 diesel vehicles in an effort to reach a settlement with U.S. regulators, as separate academic studies provided mounting evidence that the carmaker had installed software meant to evade emissions standards.
Friday's announcement came a day after the company said it was in talks to resolve a Justice Department investigation. The case bears striking similarities to a Volkswagen scandal in which several executives have been investigated or charged, with the German carmaker paying tens of billions of dollars in fines, penalties and settlements.
Although Fiat Chrysler is unlikely to have to pay as much as Volkswagen, the emissions cheating, if proved, could still be expensive and badly damage the company's reputation at a time when it is grappling with low profitability.
On Friday, Fiat Chrysler said it was modifying Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 diesel vehicles in the 2014 through 2016 model years with "updated emissions software calibrations." It said it was also seeking regulatory approval for 2017 models with the same software.
The carmaker said the move was the "result of many months of close collaboration" with the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. Fiat Chrysler said it believed the updates would help it reach settlements with the EPA and the Justice Department.
The Justice Department has been investigating Fiat Chrysler since the EPA in January accused the carmaker of violating clean-air rules. Fiat Chrysler said this week that it was trying to work out a settlement with the Justice Department but added that it would fight any suggestion that it used illegal software to dupe regulators.
The company already faces accusations in Europe that its cars produce far more nitrogen oxides in normal driving than during tests. On Wednesday, the European Union's executive arm filed a formal complaint against the Italian government for allowing Fiat Chrysler to sell cars designed to evade emissions tests.
And the evidence has piled up that those high emissions levels were part of efforts to evade environmental standards.
Academic researchers on both sides of the Atlantic separately said this week that they found that Fiat Chrysler's diesel vehicles had suspiciously high pollution levels and that there was evidence the company had used a so-called defeat device, software intended to allow a vehicle to pass official emissions tests while polluting more when driven on the highway.
In the latest instance, the U.S. university researcher who exposed Volkswagen's emissions scandal said that tests of Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 had revealed major discrepancies between road and lab emissions.
Dan Carder, director of a renowned vehicle emissions program at West Virginia University, said a diesel Ram pickup tested by the group produced up to 20 times more harmful nitrogen oxides on the road than under controlled conditions in a lab. A diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee produced up to five times as much.
A 2013 study by Carder's team set off a chain of events that exposed Volkswagen's use of illegal software to conceal excess emissions in diesel cars. Eventually the German automaker paid more than $22 billion in legal settlements and fines stemming from the cheating.
Researchers from the University of the Ruhr in Bochum, Germany, and at the University of California, San Diego, said this week they found evidence of a defeat device in a diesel Fiat 500X, a compact SUV sold in Europe.
Fiat Chrysler told the European Parliament last year that the car was not programmed to detect emissions tests or to deactivate the pollution control equipment after a certain period of time.