FCA US’s highly touted 3.0L turbodiesel V-6 is cited today by the U.S. EPA for installing and using undisclosed defeat devices allowing the engine to emit increased levels of nitrogen-oxide pollution in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The notice of violation issued by the EPA cites engines installed in model-year ’14-’16 Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. An estimated 100,000 vehicles equipped with the engine have been sold. Model-year ’17 vehicles equipped with the engine have not been certified for sale.

In a statement released in response to the EPA notice, FCA stands by its diesel-powered vehicles saying they “meet all applicable regulatory requirements,” and that its emission-control strategies do not constitute “defeat devices” under applicable regulations.

FCA says it is “disappointed” the EPA chose to issue the violation notice despite the automaker’s long-running efforts to explain its emissions-control technology to the agency.

“FCA US diesel engines are equipped with state-of-the-art emission control systems hardware, including selective catalytic reduction (SCR),” FCA says. “Every auto manufacturer must employ various strategies to control tailpipe emissions in order to balance EPA’s regulatory requirements for low nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and requirements for engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency. FCA US believes that its emission control systems meet the applicable requirements.”

The 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 was a Wards 10 Best Engines winner in 2014, 2015 and 2016, cited for its power, refinement and fuel efficiency. The engine was a nominee for 2017 but was not a 4-time winner.

The engine was developed in 2008-2009 by Italy’s VM Motori (which FCA now owns) and previously had been installed in European-market Jeep Grand Cherokees, Chrysler 300Cs (known there as Lancia Themas) and even some Maserati sedans.

The EPA issued its notice of violation following enhanced testing of diesel vehicles dating back to September 2015 when German automaker Volkswagen was found to have installed defeat devices on its passenger-car diesels in a deliberate effort to avoid detection of the vehicles’ failure to meet diesel emissions standards.

An 18-month investigation of VW Dieselgate led to $4.3 billion in fines, criminal charges and recalls, buybacks and other corrective actions by the automaker.

Cynthia Giles, EPA assistant administrator-enforcement and compliance office, tells reporters on a conference call that during its investigation EPA found at least eight “undisclosed” defeat devices on the tested vehicles. The devices allow a reduced level of emissions control at higher speeds and over longer drives, Giles says.

Despite extensive interaction between the EPA and FCA in the past year, Giles says “we have not heard from the company yet anything that explains the use of these undisclosed defeat devices.

“We’re alleging serious violations of the Clean Air Act. These vehicles were sold illegally.”

The EPA still is in the process of determining how to resolve the violations, which carry fines of up to $44,539 per vehicle sold, and technically how to fix polluting vehicles.

Giles confirms enhanced testing of vehicles continues, but she declines to identify other automakers’ diesel engines under investigation.

In a hastily arranged press conference at FCA US headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI, FCA Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne clarified the dispute bears no resemblance to the VW scandal because nothing in FCA’s diesel calibration distinguishes between a test cycle and normal driving conditions.

“This is a huge difference because there has never been an intention on the part of FCA to create conditions that are designed to defeat the testing process,” Marchionne says. “Anyone that tries to draw the comparison between us and VW is smoking illegal material.”

He said the dispute centers on whether the calibration filed by FCA met all the regulations that were envisioned by EPA and the California Air Resources Board. “The objective has always been with the EPA to try and get this issue resolved,” he says.

Marchionne says he was completely blindsided by the EPA’s action and suggested it was “very, very strange” the notice came in the final week of the current administration, after FCA has been in discussions with the EPA for more than a year and has been forthcoming in disclosing documentation regarding calibration of the engine.

“We have done – in our view – nothing that is illegal,” he says. “Protection mechanisms are allowed under the regulations to protect engines under particular circumstances.”

FCA says it stands ready to work with the government to resolve the alleged violations. The automaker says it has developed extensive software changes that can be implemented immediately to improve emissions performance.

“FCA US intends to work with the incoming administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably and to assure the EPA and FCA US customers that the company’s diesel-powered vehicles meet all applicable regulatory requirements,” the automaker says.

Bob Lee, FCA’s vice president-engine and electrified propulsion systems engineering, told WardsAuto in November 2015 he expected greater scrutiny of diesels following the VW scandal, and that delays up to six weeks to earn certification were possible.

He quoted from an EPA letter received by FCA saying “Please be aware that some undetermined amount of time longer will be required to approve your request for certification.”

At that time, Lee said the automaker already had reviewed 2 million lines of emission software code to make sure its engine was in compliance. However, it was unclear how more rigorous EPA testing would be conducted, Lee said.

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com