G.M. Accused in Lawsuit of Deceit on Diesel Truck Emissions

2017-05-26 05:21:02

 

G.M. Accused in Lawsuit of Deceit on Diesel Truck Emissions

A Seattle law firm that specializes in suing automakers has filed a class-action lawsuit against General Motors, accusing the company of programming some of its heavy-duty pickup trucks to cheat on diesel emissions tests.

News of the lawsuit was enough to send the company’s shares down almost 2 percent on Thursday. It is the latest sign of the intense scrutiny of the methods that automakers have devised to meet stringent diesel-emissions regulations, an issue that has led to major legal cases against Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler.

General Motors denied the allegations. “These claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves,” it said in a statement.

It was unclear whether environmental regulators would open investigations into G.M. and the emissions-control technology used in its diesel trucks.

The suit accuses the company of using software that helps the diesel versions of Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD heavy-duty pickup trucks with Duramax engines meet emissions requirements.

The software was used in about 705,000 trucks sold from 2011 to 2016, the suit says. It argues G.M. deceived customers by marketing the vehicles as “clean” diesel trucks and seeks to force the company to buy the vehicles back and compensate owners for economic losses.

According to the suit, the trucks conform to emissions standards when they are being driven at steady speeds and when outdoor temperatures range from 68 to 86 degrees — the conditions used for some of the emissions testing such trucks undergo.

Absent those conditions, the vehicles emit four to five times the pollutants than are allowed, the suit says. It alleges that G.M. intentionally programmed the vehicles’ emissions controls to pass emissions tests and to then scale back those controls in real-world conditions to improve power and fuel-economy.

In response to the suit, G.M. said heavy-duty trucks with its Duramax diesel engine complied with all emissions regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, which plays an influential role in vehicle emissions.

The E.P.A. did not respond to requests for comment on the suit. The California agency is reviewing the lawsuit, a spokesman said. He declined further comment.

The suit was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a law firm that specializes in class actions and that previously filed a diesel-emissions suit against G.M. related to the Chevrolet Cruze compact and another against Fiat Chrysler; those suits are pending. A similar suit filed by the firm against Mercedes-Benz was dismissed. Hagens Berman has also filed liability claims unrelated to emissions against Ford Motor, Kia Motors, Tesla and others.

John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he had reviewed some details of the lawsuit and was not sure if G.M.’s emissions controls amounted to a so-called illegal defeat device. “There’s not enough information to say right now,” he said.

Hagens Berman said the suit was based on tests it conducted on a 2013 Silverado 2500HD with about 51,000 miles on the odometer. Steve W. Berman, a partner, said the firm had hired its own engineers to test diesel vehicles after Volkswagen acknowledged in 2015 that it had cheated on emissions tests.

“We came to the conclusion that all manufacturers in Europe had cheated, and we began to ask, ‘How could it be that the vehicles manufacturers are selling in the U.S. are clean?’” Mr. Berman said.

Brian Johnson, a financial analyst at Barclays Capital, said in a research note to clients that the suit could merely be a “fishing” attempt to extract a settlement from G.M. “We’d only know that it’s more serious if the E.P.A. steps in,” he wrote.

The diesel versions of the heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra make up a small portion of G.M.’s total United States sales, but contribute significantly to its bottom line.

A decade ago, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen began offering a new generation of cars that they promoted as “clean diesel.” They were designed with new pollution-control technologies and intended to meet more stringent emissions limits being set by the European Union and California.

Among the innovations was a system that sprays ammonia into a vehicle’s exhaust system to remove nitric oxide, one of the most harmful pollutants in diesel exhaust. New filters that trapped and burned particles common in diesel fumes were also introduced.

But then Volkswagen began selling cars that passed the tighter emissions tests without using the exhaust additive, which is known as urea. Researchers at West Virginia University and elsewhere eventually discovered that emissions from VW’s diesel models were far higher on real roads than in tests, and the E.P.A. demanded that the company explain the discrepancy.

In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted that its cars had used software to detect when they were being tested, and to turn on emissions controls. In real driving, the controls were dialed back to give cars better fuel economy and a peppier ride.

In all, Volkswagen sold some 11 million cars and sport-utility vehicles — including about 600,000 in the United States — equipped with the offending software.

“Volkswagen, because the cheating was so clear with them, sort of because the poster child for misbehavior when it comes to diesel emissions,” said Karl Brauer, a senior editor at Kelley Blue Book. “And now, it’s like, ‘Let’s look at all the other diesels and see if they’re doing the same thing.’”

On Tuesday, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, accusing it of using illegal engine-control software on diesel versions of its Ram 1500 pickup truck and Jeep Grand Cherokee. That case involves about 104,000 vehicles from the 2014 to 2016 model years.

In Europe, where diesel cars account for a much larger portion of the market, regulators and researchers have begun investigations of several automakers to determine whether they are using illegal means to comply with diesel-exhaust rules.

Add comment