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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is the target of a civil lawsuit filed by the United States department of justice (DOJ) that alleges diesel emission software defeat devices were fitted to more than 100,000 vehicles sold in the US.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Michigan but will likely be heard in a San Francisco Federal Court where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and several other jurisdictions are likely to join the proceedings.
VM Motori, the Italian manufacturer of the V6 engine and a subsidiary of FCA, was also named as a party to the suit.
FCA said that it intends to be forthright in its defence of the allegations, "particularly against any claims that the company engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat US emissions tests".
US EPA testing of 3.0-litre V6 diesel engines in 2014-16 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 vehicles in the wake of the Volkswagen "dieselgate" case has led Australian federal authorities have started their own investigation.
EPA tests have turned up at least eight undisclosed software features that lessen the effectiveness of the vehicles' emissions control systems during normal driving conditions.
The department of infrastructure and regional development (DIRD) is working to address the issue in consultation with FCA Australia.
EPA tests have turned up at least eight undisclosed software features that lessen the effectiveness of the vehicles' emissions control systems during normal driving conditions, according to lawsuit papers filed by the US DOJ.
"This results in cars that meet emission standards in the laboratory and during standard EPA testing, but during certain normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that are much higher than the EPA-compliant level," the court documents state.
"The complaint alleges that each of these vehicles differs materially from the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications, and thus the cars are uncertified, in violation of the Clean Air Act."
The DOJ lawsuit suggests the EPA has now hardened its stance on the case after recent tests, despite FCA indicating that the undisclosed software was a matter of oversight rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead authorities.
"Based upon this investigation, the complaint alleges that one or more of these undisclosed software features, alone or in combination with the others, renders inoperative, bypasses and/or defeats the vehicles' emission control systems, which were installed to make the vehicles comply with Clean Air Act emission standards," the court papers state.
"In short, the complaint now alleges that the vehicles contain defeat devices."
FCA is seeking approval to fit revised software to fix the issue on US-spec 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 vehicles.
While the numbers of vehicles involved are considerably fewer, the new charges appear to put the allegations against FCA in the same league as those against Volkswagen.
FCA is seeking approval to fit revised software to fix the issue on US-spec 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 vehicles, which can also be retrofitted to 2014-16 models.
The 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee is scheduled to be launched here by FCA Australia next month, while the Ram 1500 is sold through a range of grey vehicle importers that have been right-hand-drive converted.
Ram 2500 and 3500 vehicles, which are sold locally through American Special Vehicles (ASV), are unaffected as their powertrains are sourced from Cummins.