DETROIT — Five years ago, Chrysler had big dreams for diesel.
Lagging far behind competitors in fleet fuel efficiency, the company now known as Fiat Chrysler reached into a house-owned engine maker, VM Motori, and plucked out a 3.0-liter diesel that VM Motori had developed for its former owner, General Motors, but never used.
The torque-rich engine was rebranded EcoDiesel, and it was perfect for the automaker's big U.S. sellers: Jeep's heavy Grand Cherokee SUV, in which it would get up to 30 mpg on the highway, and the Ram 1500 pickup, in which it would get a best-in-class 29 mpg highway. Once those beachheads were established, executives said at the time, diesels would spread elsewhere across the U.S. fleet, first to the Wrangler and perhaps later, even into the car lineup, commanding heavy premiums to boost Chrysler's bottom line as well as its lagging fuel economy ratings.
But according to the EPA and now the U.S. Department of Justice, FCA left some of the "Eco" out of its EcoDiesels. And now, like rival Volkswagen before it, FCA finds itself on the wrong end of the law.
Last week, the agencies filed suit in Detroit against FCA and its VM Motori subsidiary, alleging that the automaker failed to declare at least eight pieces of software, so-called defeat devices, that reduce the effectiveness of emissions control systems on 103,828 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 EcoDiesels produced between 2013 and 2016.
The civil suit seeks billions of dollars in potential fines and penalties. Analysts estimated last week that the issue could cost cash-poor FCA between $460 million and more than $1 billion, Bloomberg reported.