Ital­ian diesel probe omit­ted key tests for Fiat Chrysler

Over­sight sug­gests EU states may be go­ing easy on own na­tional au­tomak­ers

Global Times - Weekend - - AUTO - Reuters

Fiat Chrysler ve­hi­cles were al­lowed to skip key tests for il­le­gal en­gine soft­ware dur­ing Italy’s main emis­sions-cheat­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the wake of the Volk­swa­gen scan­dal, ac­cord­ing to the trans­port min­istry’s own re­port.

The re­port, pre­sented to a Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee in Oc­to­ber but never of­fi­cially pub­lished, was seized upon by en­vi­ron­men­tal groups press­ing MEPs to vote for tougher EU over­sight of ve­hi­cle test­ing by na­tional au­thor­i­ties.

“It’s im­per­a­tive that we break this cosy re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­tional test­ing au­thor­i­ties and their do­mes­tic carmakers,” said Ju­lia Polis­canova, a ve­hi­cle emis­sions spe­cial­ist at Brus­sels-based cam­paign group Trans­port & En­vi­ron­ment. “This prob­lem is at the heart of Diesel­gate.”

The Ital­ian re­port may raise ques­tions for Fiat Chrysler (FCA) as it faces a US crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion for al­leged emis­sions ma­nip­u­la­tion and Ger­man ac­cu­sa­tions that it, like VW, used “de­feat de­vices” to con­found ni­tro­gen ox­ide (NOx) tests.

FCA on Mon­day be­came the third car­maker after VW and Re­nault to be re­ferred to French pros­e­cu­tors over the scan­dal. The Ital­ian-Amer­i­can com­pany de­nies break­ing any laws, a spokesman re­it­er­ated, de­clin­ing fur­ther com­ment.

The min­istry find­ings, which have been cir­cu­lated by some Ital­ian op­po­si­tion politi­cians and ex­am­ined by Reuters, in­clude com­plete sets of data for eight diesel cars made by BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Volk­swa­gen and GM’s Opel.

But for three of the seven FCA mod­els also in­ves­ti­gated – a Jeep Chero­kee 2.0, Alfa Romeo Gi­uli­etta 1.6 and Lan­cia Yp­silon 1.3 – re­sults are miss­ing from an on­road mea­sure­ment phase and a re­versed ver­sion of the EU’s stan­dard “NEDC” lab test.

All seven FCA mod­els also lack data for an “Artemis” test that ad­justs the EU lab regime to re­flect ur­ban driv­ing styles. The three skipped pro­to­cols are typ­i­cally used to help un­mask de­feat de­vices by pre­vent­ing them from de­tect­ing the test.

No ex­pla­na­tion for the miss­ing FCA re­sults was of­fered in the doc­u­ment.

But trans­port min­istry spokes­woman Luisa Gabbi told Reuters a “new de­fin­i­tive ver­sion” had been drafted to in­clude more data for FCA mod­els fol­low­ing fur­ther tests, and would be pub­lished in com­ing weeks.

“No key test has been omit­ted for FCA,” she said.

Fol­low­ing VW’s ex­po­sure in 2015 for US diesel test-cheat­ing, sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries launched their own in­ves­tiga­tive test pro­grams.

Their re­sults re­vealed on-road NOx emis­sions as high as 15 times the reg­u­la­tory lim­its, as well as the wide­spread use of de­feat de­vices that re­duce ex­haust treat­ment in some con­di­tions.

Loop­hole

FCA is among carmakers in­clud­ing Re­nault and GM that have broadly in­voked an EU le­gal loop­hole de­signed to al­low such soft­ware only when it is nec­es­sary for safety or en­gine pro­tec­tion. All deny break­ing the law.

In Ger­man and French test­ing, a Jeep Chero­kee 2.0-liter sim­i­lar to the model over­looked by Ital­ian engi­neers emit­ted be­tween 5.3 and 9.9 times the le­gal NOx limit un­der mod­i­fied EU test cy­cles con­ducted in the lab or on the road.

In­de­pen­dent road test­ing of a Fiat 500L with the same 1.6-liter en­gine as the omit­ted Alfa Gi­uli­etta mea­sured NOx lev­els more than 5.6 times the statu­tory 180 mil­ligrams per kilo­me­ter for Euro 5 en­gines, ac­cord­ing to UK-based Emis­sions An­a­lyt­ics.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ital­ian re­port, the FCA mod­els were all an­a­lyzed in Fiat’s own labs un­der the su­per­vi­sion of min­istry of­fi­cials, while all other mod­els were tested at an in­de­pen­dent Isti­tuto Mo­tori fa­cil­ity.

The draft reg­u­la­tion be­fore MEPs would bol­ster EU over­sight of gov­ern­ment test­ing au­thor­i­ties to ad­dress per­ceived con­flicts of in­ter­est when they in­spect and cer­tify the cars of their own na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing cham­pi­ons.

Brus­sels would get pow­ers to carry out ve­hi­cle spot-checks and al­low na­tional au­thor­i­ties to peer-re­view one an­other’s de­ci­sions. Un­der cur­rent rules, a ve­hi­cle cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is valid EU-wide but can be re­voked only by the coun­try that is­sued it.

Law­mak­ers on the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s in­ter­nal mar­ket com­mit­tee were ex­pected to ap­prove the draft with only mi­nor amend­ments, set­ting the stage for a ple­nary vote.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which drew up the pro­pos­als last year, is me­di­at­ing in a re­lated dispute after Ger­many ac­cused Ital­ian reg­u­la­tors of fail­ing to act on ev­i­dence that FCA mod­els in­clud­ing the Fiat 500X use banned de­feat de­vices.

A spokes­woman for the EU ex­ec­u­tive de­clined to com­ment on the Ital­ian diesel re­port but em­pha­sized the need for change.

“Mem­ber states have so far wanted to keep ex­clu­sive re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Lu­cia Caudet said. “But this sys­tem has failed.”

A man walks past the logo for Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles at the Fiat Mi­rafiori car plant.

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