By Mike Spector and David Shepardson
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. business of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has agreed to plead guilty to criminal conduct and pay roughly $300 million in penalties to resolve a multi-year emissions fraud probe surrounding vehicles with diesel engines, people familiar with the matter said.
FCA US LLC, now part of Stellantis NV, has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge arising from its efforts to evade emissions requirements for more than 100,000 older Ram pickup trucks and Jeep sport-utility vehicles in its U.S. lineup, the people said.
The plea deal, negotiated with U.S. Justice Department officials, is set to be unveiled as soon as next week, though the timing could slip. The company would then enter its guilty plea during a subsequent hearing in a U.S. district court.
The affected diesel-powered vehicles span model years 2014 to 2016. FCA merged with French Peugeot maker PSA in 2021 to form Stellantis.
Stellantis and the Justice Department declined to comment.
The plea deal comes five years after Volkswagen AG pleaded guilty to criminal charges to resolve its own emissions crisis affecting nearly 600,000 vehicles in a scandal that became known as “Dieselgate.”
Volkswagen’s deception precipitated additional scrutiny that resulted in officials on both sides of the Atlantic cracking down on automakers accused of using illegal software known as defeat devices to dupe government emissions tests.
European automakers relied on so-called clean diesel technology to make vehicles that could comply with tougher environmental regulations only for officials to find they were polluting more on the road than during the tests that certified them for sale. Automakers are now focusing efforts on battery-powered electric vehicles.
Negotiations between FCA lawyers and U.S. officials to resolve the current probe dragged on for years and across presidential administrations as the two sides haggled over whether the company would plead guilty and, if it did, the exact details in any criminal charge, one of the people said.
One of FCA’s employees is preparing to face trial on charges he misled regulators about pollution from the vehicles targeted in the investigation. Last year, the Justice Department disclosed charges against two additional FCA employees in the alleged emissions fraud.
An indictment alleges the employees conspired to install defeat devices in vehicles so they could dupe government emissions tests and then pollute beyond legal limits on roadways.
FCA has previously resolved related civil allegations while denying it deliberately attempted to cheat on emissions tests.
(Reporting by Mike Spector in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Nick Zieminski)