Editor’s Note: The following provides an overview and general information about a recent, court approved settlement regarding certain FCA EcoDiesel vehicles as the terms are now being distributed to owners. Nothing below regarding that case should be considered a solicitation for legal services by Stern Law, PLLC. Members of the Class are represented by class counsel. This is general information, only, for the consideration and evaluation by owners of these vehicles. Questions concerning the terms of the class action settlement should be directed to class counsel, the legal representatives for owners, former owners and lessees of the subject vehicles, at EcoDieselClassCounsel@lchb.com or 1-888-315-6096, and/or to the class action settlement claims administrator at 833-280-4748. Stern Law, PLLC has been representing the rights of consumers harmed by defective products for more than 35 years. We represent owners of the vehicles involved in the EcoDiesel litigation whom have opted out of the class action settlement and instead are pursuing direct litigation against Fiat Chrysler through our firm (see our complaint here).
Stern Law, PLLC, is representing individuals who have purchased a 2014, 2015, or 2016 model year Dodge Ram 1500 or Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 3.0 liter EcoDiesel engine and chosen to opt out from a recent class action settlement. In their case filed in late 2018, Stern Law is seeking damages for clients associated with:
- Fraud or misrepresentations made by the manufacturer.
- Loss in “Re-sale value.”
- The premium paid to include the “EcoDiesel technology” as an add-on option.
- Health related injury or exposure to toxic levels of pollutants that should have been controlled by the EcoDiesel technology.
- Possibly uncorrectable performance issues due to a software patch intended to correct the emissions issue, including loss of power, increased DEF consumption or the “actual” miles per gallon versus the “stated” miles per gallon, as another software patch intended to correct emissions issues in the context of Volkswagen had harmed performance.
Litigation against Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) for their clean diesel-equipped vehicles originated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA accused FCA of producing “clean diesel” vehicles containing software inhibiting the ability of the vehicle’s emissions control systems to reduce harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. This software allegedly makes FCA’s vehicles equipped with clean diesel engines release excess levels of nitrogen oxide. While the DOJ and EPA investigation into FCA has resulted in a substantial settlement, Fiat Chrysler has denied any wrongdoing.
DIESEL ENGINE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS
Diesel engines have several advantages over gasoline engines. Some of the benefits that diesel engines (in general) possess include:
- Diesel engines are more fuel efficient, allowing vehicles to drive for greater distances on less fuel than a vehicle equipped with a gasoline engine;
- Diesel engines are known for their longevity. In fact, a few diesel-equipped vehicles produced by automaker Mercedes-Benz have reportedly logged over 900,000 miles;
- Diesel engines can give a vehicle more power than a gasoline engine. In fact, in some situations, a vehicle equipped with a diesel engine can tow a vehicle of a similar size and weight while still delivering better fuel performance than the vehicle with a gasoline engine.
Nonetheless, these benefits come at a cost. Most notably, diesel engines can emit greater amounts of pollutants, including nitrogen oxides such as nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen oxides can contaminate the air, and exposure to these pollutants can lead to the development of serious respiratory and/or cardiovascular health complications.
In recent years, the passage of environmental rules and regulations at the state and federal level meant that automakers who wished to offer consumers vehicles equipped with diesel engines would need to find a way to limit the amount of pollutants and nitrogen oxides emitted by the vehicles.
CLEAN DIESEL TECHNOLOGY AND FIAT CHRYSLER
Beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2015, FCA and other automakers began testing, marketing, and delivering “clean diesel” vehicles. In certain FCA cars, trucks, and SUVs, the engine was known as an EcoDiesel engine. FCA used EcoDiesel engines in its Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee models between 2014 and 2016. In selling these EcoDiesel vehicles to consumers, FCA claimed that the engine was compliant with state and federal regulations limiting the emission of nitrogen oxides and was therefore more environmentally-friendly than other traditional diesel engines. Consumers would pay a price for EcoDiesel vehicles – the addition of the EcoDiesel technology could increase the sales price of the vehicle by up to $5,000 in some cases.
EVIDENCE EMERGES THAT CLEAN DIESELS MAY NOT BE SO CLEAN
Starting in 2015, the EPA began investigations into automakers selling clean diesel-equipped vehicles. More specifically, the EPA gained information that Volkswagen was utilizing so-called “defeat devices” to make it appear that its clean diesel vehicles were passing rigorous emission tests when in fact the vehicles would emit far more pollutants regulations permitted when the vehicles were driven under normal circumstances and conditions. At the conclusion of its investigation, Volkswagen accepted responsibility for not only utilizing defeat devices and selling diesel vehicles that were not “clean,” but also for covering up documents that revealed this information. Volkswagen recently agreed to pay over four billion dollars in civil and criminal penalties and has agreed to cooperate in the investigation of several high-level executives involved in the scandal.
The Volkswagen investigation was the start, rather than the end, of the matter. Soon additional evidence would emerge suggesting that Volkswagen’s actions were common practice in the industry, and that millions of vehicles equipped with “clean diesel” engines may be emitting unacceptable levels of pollutants. Fiat Chrysler is one automaker whose vehicles have come under scrutiny recently.
Allegations about defeat devices and cheat software used in EcoDiesel trucks to falsely underreport the actual amount of emissions started as simple legal claims, but these have since been given real support by research, internal documents and more. Questions on whether these vehicles are in regulatory compliance seem to have been eased by Fiat Chrysler Auto (FCA)’s attempt to develop “software patches” to ensure vehicles conform to government emissions regulations. The government’s own lawsuit in this matter is only one part of the issue, though.
First, the facts: in December of 2016, FCA was sued in federal court by owners of the 2014-16 Dodge Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel 3.0 liter engine vehicles. By January, the EPA got involved and began investigating FCA for possible compliance issues in these trucks, resulting in a May lawsuit against the manufacturer. The EcoDiesel Class action alleges that FCA knowingly used software on the trucks to reduce levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions while in a testing environment. Because the government utilizes very structured guidelines when testing vehicles, such FCA software detected when the vehicle was being tested and changed the level of emissions. As a result, the NOx emissions were manipulated and/or reduced, and the 1500 or Grand Cherokee were considered to be ‘compliant.’ However, when tested out on the open road and in a wide range of performance situations, these EcoDiesel trucks expelled far more NOx than permitted by the government!
The class action lawsuit filed against FCA involved extensive scientific studies with these trucks being driven on the highway and in other settings, which emitted five times the legal limit of NOx. The suit alleges these higher emissions negated the marketing claims made by FCA and makes the manufacturer liable for the premium pricing consumers paid for ‘clean’ diesel trucks, among other things. During May of 2017, a resolution to the government’s investigation appeared to be near and would involve software patches for approximately 100,000 affected vehicles. FCA acknowledged, in time, that it was actively in mediation regarding civil lawsuits on the matter. Of note, the manufacturer still denies any deliberate efforts to deceive or cheat on emissions testin
FCA EMISSIONS IN THE NEWS
In the interest of providing you the facts, here’s a quick rundown of published news pieces clarifying this FCA emissions scandal regarding EcoDiesel trucks across a timeline, and from a wide range of sources:
- Hagens Berman, December 1, 2016: Consumers Sue Fiat Chrysler and Bosch for Diesel Emissions Cheating in Dodge RAM 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel Models
- CNBC, January 12, 2017: Fiat Chrysler shares plunge 13% after EPA accuses automaker of using deceptive software
- Top Speed, January 16, 2017: Ram EcoDiesel Now Under EPA Investigation
- Consumer Affairs, May 18, 2017: VW case concludes, Fiat Chrysler may be next
- NY Times, May 19, 2017: Fiat Chrysler to Modify 100,000 Vehicles After Accusations of Emissions Cheating
- MotorTrend, May 23, 2017: U.S. Sues FCA Over Diesel Emissions
- Reuters, May 24, 2017: Analysts wary over Fiat Chrysler’s emissions but say not as bad as VW
- Reuters, September 27, 2017: Fiat Chrysler to engage in settlement talks over diesel emissions
- The Truth About Cars, October 9, 2017: Now Legal for Sale, 2017 Ram EcoDiesels Remain Thin on the Ground
- The Truth About Cars, December 20, 2017: Older Jeep and Ram EcoDiesel Owners Won’t See An Engine Fix Until at Least May
- Detroit Free Press, February 2, 2018: Feds want substantial penalties from Fiat Chrysler to settle diesel case
- Bloomberg, February 2, 2018: US Seeks Major Fines, Recalls in Fiat Diesel Settlement
- The Drive, February 2, 2018: Report: US Wants FCA to Recall 104,000 Vehicles to Settle Emissions Suit
- Green Car Reports, February 12, 2018: FCA can settle Jeep, Ram EcoDiesel emission case with fine, recall: Justice Department
- 5th Gen Rams, March 1, 2018: FCA stockpiling 2018 Ram 1500 EcoDiesels
- Auto News, April 10, 2018: FCA, US talks advance over emissions settlement
- Bloomberg, May 18, 2018: Fiat Chrysler Suit Emails Suggest Diesel Cheat Known in 2010
Finally, FCA HAS reached two important settlements.
The first, with the Department of Justice, involved hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and an agreement to implement software patches (with an extended warranty surrounding any problems associated with the patch) through a nationwide recall. You can read more about that settlement here: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/civil-settlements-united-states-and-california-fiat-chrysler-will-resolve-allegations
Second, FCA settled with class counsel in a class action settlement that automatically includes all owners of these vehicles, unless they opt out by April 15, 2019. The terms of that settlement are available at EcoDieselSettlement.com and it is very important that owners read about their rights and the terms of the settlement as, without an opt out, they will automatically be subject to its terms.
After roughly two years of legal proceedings in the EcoDiesel class action litigation, class counsel, Bosch and Fiat Chrysler have announced a class action settlement, revealing that Fiat Chrysler clearly violated EPA emissions requirements. The settlement, accepted by Fiat Chrysler, Bosch (Robert Bosch GmbH and Robert Bosch LLC), and class counsel, has the preliminary approval of the court, with final approval pending. There’s a wide range of interesting items raised by the short form notice and the terms of the settlement which are now important for you and your vehicle, including how a Release required by the settlement may affect owners, former owners and lessees. The Long Form Settlement Notice, which details the terms of the class action settlement, can also be fully read here.
CLASS SETTLEMENT TERMS
According to the terms of the class action settlement as described on Page 14 in the Long Form Notice, here are some of the performance issues described in connection with the “Approved Emissions Modification (AEM),” or the software patch (the emphasis provided below is our own),
- “Key Vehicle Attributes. This AEM is not expected to change any of your key vehicle attributes, such as reliability, durability, vehicle performance, drivability, engine noise or vibration, or other driving characteristics.”
- “DEF Consumption. The AEM is not expected to change your Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank refill interval. If your previous refill rate coincided with your oil change interval, that should not change with this software update. However, you may notice that under certain conditions your vehicle may use slightly more DEF as compared to prior usage.”
- “Fuel Economy. Average fuel economy is not expected to change as a result of this AEM. The AEM may, under sustained low speed driving (e.g., under 21 mph) with frequent stops, decrease your fuel economy or, under sustained high speed driving conditions, increase or decrease your fuel economy. As with all vehicles, however, several factors can affect your actual fuel economy such as: how and where you drive, vehicle condition, maintenance and age, fuel variations, and vehicle variations.”
According to the terms of the class action settlement, the Approved Emissions Modification (AEM), or ‘the patch,’ “may, under sustained low speed driving (e.g., under 21 mph) with frequent stops, decrease your fuel economy or, under sustained high speed driving conditions, increase or decrease your fuel economy.”
A wide range of owners may regularly face these driving conditions (e.g., driving on side streets in “stop and go” traffic, or on the freeway, whether in congested traffic or at high rates of speed), making the terms applicable to many owners.
For full access to the class action settlement terms and documentation, you can visit EcoDieselSettlement.com.
Important Notice: The preceding information represents the opinions and views of Stern Law, PLLC. Despite our opinions and views expressed above, and because every case is different, nothing here can or should be understood to represent a guarantee of success or that every owner will always do better by opting out of the EcoDiesel class action settlement and by suing Fiat Chrysler directly. Instead, the preceding information represents the opinions and views of Stern Law, PLLC that should be thoughtfully considered by you. Questions concerning the terms of the EcoDiesel class settlement should be directed to class counsel at EcoDieselClassCounsel@lchb.com or 1-888-315-60961, and/or to the class settlement claims administrator at 833-280-4748. Nothing above regarding that case should be considered a solicitation for legal services by Stern Law, PLLC. Members of the Class are represented by class counsel. This is general information, only, for the consideration and evaluation by owners of these vehicles.