Fiat named in class action over use of defeat devices to falsify fuel efficiency, performance, and emissions statistics

The complaint alleges that Fiat intentionally installed of so-called defeat devices on an estimated 104,000 diesel Dodge and Jeep vehicles sold in the United States since 2014 (“Defeat Device Vehicles”). Defendants marketed those vehicles as environmentally friendly vehicles that possessed better fuel efficiency, better performance, and lower emissions. Although Defendants successfully marketed these expensive cars as “clean,” their environmentally-friendly representations were a sham. Defendants did not actually make cars with those desirable and advertised attributes.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), Defendants installed their “defeat device” in at least their 3.0-liter EcoDiesel-powered 2014-2016 Dodge RAM 1500 pickup trucks and 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles.

Instead of delivering on their promise of superior fuel economy coupled with low emissions, Defendants devised a way to make it appear that their cars did what they said they would when, in fact, they did not.

The defeat devices Defendants designed and installed work by switching on the full emissions control systems in Defendants’ cars only when the car is undergoing periodic emissions testing. The technology needed to control emissions from Defendants’ cars to meet state and federal emissions regulations, reduces their performance, limiting acceleration, torque, and fuel efficiency.

To hide this, the defeat device simply shuts off most of the emissions control systems in the car once the car has completed its emissions test. While that might have made the car more fun to drive, it resulted in Defendants’ cars sending excess NOx emissions into the environment than is allowed under the Clean Air Act and state regulations.

Mercedes named in class action lawsuit over sale of “BlueTEC Clean Diesel” vehicles for emitting more pollutants than allowed by federal and state laws

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The complaint alleges that in the wake of the major scandal involving Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles evading emissions standards with the help of certain software that turns off emissions controls when the vehicles are not being tested, reports now indicate that Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC’s (Mercedes)’ so called “Clean Diesel” vehicles emit far more pollution on the road than in lab tests. Real world testing has recently revealed that these vehicles emit dangerous oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at a level more than 65 times higher than the United States Environmental Protection Agency permits. The Mercedes “Clean Diesel” turns out to be far from “clean.”

Diesel engines pose a difficult challenge to the environment because they have an inherent trade-off between power, fuel efficiency, and emissions. Compared to gasoline engines, diesel engines generally produce greater torque, low-end power, better drivability and much higher fuel efficiency. But these benefits come at the cost of much dirtier and more harmful emissions.

One by-product of diesel combustion is NOx, which generally describes several compounds comprised of nitrogen and oxygen atoms. These compounds are formed in the cylinder of the engine during the high temperature combustion process. NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter in the air, and reacts with sunlight in the atmosphere to form ozone. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with serious health dangers, including serious respiratory illnesses and premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. The United States Government, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has passed and enforced laws designed to protect United States citizens from these pollutants and certain chemicals and agents known to cause disease in humans. Automobile manufacturers must abide by these U.S. laws and must adhere to EPA rules and regulations.

In order to produce a diesel engine that has desirable torque and power characteristics, good fuel economy, and emissions levels low enough to meet the stringent European and United States governmental emission standards, Mercedes developed the BlueTEC™ diesel engine. The BlueTEC name is a general trade name used to describe a number of in-cylinder and after-treatment technologies used to reduce emissions. The primary emission control after-treatment technologies include a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system. The DPF traps and removes particulate (soot) emissions, while the SCR system facilitates a chemical reaction to reduce NOx into less harmful substances, such as nitrogen and oxygen.

In order to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, Mercedes vigorously markets its BlueTEC vehicles as “the world’s cleanest and most advanced diesel” with “ultralow emissions, high fuel economy and responsive performance” that emits “up to 30% lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline.” Mercedes represents that its BlueTEC vehicles “convert[] the nitrogen oxide emissions into harmless nitrogen and oxygen” and “reduces the nitrogen oxides in the exhaust gases by up to 90%.”

Additionally, Mercedes promotes its Clean Diesel vehicles as “Earth Friendly”: “With BlueTEC, cleaner emissions are now an equally appealing benefit.” In fact, Mercedes proclaims itself “#1 in CO2 emissions for luxury vehicles.”

These representations are deceptive and false. Mercedes has programmed its BlueTEC vehicles to turn off the NOx reduction systems when ambient temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Mercedes has admitted that a shut-off device in the engine management of certain BlueTEC diesel cars stops NOx cleaning under these and other, unspecified circumstances. On-road testing has confirmed that Mercedes’ so-called “Clean Diesel” cars produced NOx emissions at an average of 603 mg/km, which is 7.5 times the Euro 6 standard and 19 times higher than the U.S. standard. Some instantaneous NOx values were as high as 2000 mg/km—25 times the Euro 6 standard and 65 times higher than the U.S. limit.

As alleged, Mercedes manufactures, designs, markets, sells, and leases certain “BlueTEC Clean Diesel” vehicles as if they were “reduced emissions” cars that comply with all applicable regulatory standards, when in fact, these Mercedes vehicles are not “clean diesels” and emit more pollutants than allowed by federal and state laws—and far more than their gasoline fueled counterparts. On information and belief, Plaintiffs allege that the following Mercedes models powered by BlueTEC diesel fueled engines are affected by the unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and otherwise defective emission controls utilized by Mercedes: ML 320, ML 350, GL 320, E320, S350, R320, E Class, GL Class, ML Class, R Class, S Class, GLK Class, GLE Class, and Sprinter (the Affected Vehicles).

Mercedes did not previously disclose to Plaintiffs, consumers, or U.S. regulatory authorities that, when the temperature falls below 50 degrees, the Affected Vehicles spew unmitigated NOx into the air.

Mercedes never disclosed to consumers that Mercedes diesels with BlueTEC engines may be “clean” diesels when it is warm, but are “dirty” diesels when it is not. Mercedes never disclosed that, when the temperature drops below 50 degrees, it prioritizes engine power and profits over people.

Plaintiffs bring this action individually and on behalf of all other current and former owners or lessees of Affected Vehicles. Plaintiffs seek damages, injunctive relief, and equitable relief for Mercedes’ misconduct related to the design, manufacture, marketing, sale, and lease of Affected Vehicles with unlawfully high emissions

COMPLAINT