German Regulators Find An Emissions 'Defeat Device' On Fiat 500X


With hard evidence in hand, what's FCA to do now?

Following an announcement from Germany’s transportation ministry, German magazine Der Spiegel is reporting that regulators in the European nation have found a defeat device installed on the Fiat 500X that violates emissions regulations in the European Union. The device is designed to operate in an emissions compliant mode for a set period of time before shutting off and emitting more pollutants once typical emissions testing periods would end, all done with the aim of fooling regulators.

The German government didn’t release full details but will send its findings to the European commission for further review. The car in question, the Fiat 500X, is essentially a bloated and unsightly version of the Fiat 500 that shares bones with the Jeep Renegade and had its sibling, the 500L, land on Consumer Reports’ list of 10 worst cars to buy. Unfortunately for FCA, this isn’t the first time that the company has been accused of this crime. More recently, the EPA accused FCA of cheating on emissions tests of its 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel engines just after Germany threatened to freeze FCA sales due to claims that the automaker's vehicles had been using defeat devices on some of its diesel vehicles.

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Previous accusations claimed to have found a device that shuts off the engine’s emissions control devices after 22 minutes operation (the typical European test cycle lasts 20 minutes). This time around, the device in question shuts off after 90 minutes of operation, potentially a preprogramed attempt by the automaker to avoid being caught if the allegations hold true. Since European law states that automakers may install devices that shut off emissions control units to prevent engine damage if operating conditions are far out of the norm, automakers typically claim that these so-called defeat devices fall under this category.

This has complicated the process of prosecuting offending automakers because regulators and automakers must work together to determine whether an engine map that’s more forgiving on NOx emissions falls under the category of cheat device or compliant engine protection software. If German regulators and the EPA find FCA guilty as charged, things could get ugly for the struggling automaker. FCA’s value would plunge at the news of huge fines and diminished consumer trust and maybe then Volkswagen will jump on board and purchase the Italian-American automaker.