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Fiat Chrysler to ditch diesel

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to end production of all its diesel-powered models amid a collapse in demand and increasing costs in the latest blow to the scandal-tainted fuel. 

Under a four-year plan to be unveiled on June 1st, the Italian-American carmaker will say it intends to phase out the fuel type from the cars across its brands.

The company owns the Jeep, Ram, Dodge, Chrysler, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Fiat marques.

FCA becomes the latest carmaker to ditch the fuel publicly, after Toyota said last year it would probably not launch another model with a diesel engine, while Porsche, which is owned by Volkswagen, last week announced it would drop the technology from its range.

FCA has decided to pull diesel from all of its passenger cars but is expected to keep diesel options for its commercial vehicles, including a range of its pick-up trucks in the US, such as the popular Ram 1500.

FCA was the only big carmaker in Europe last year to see its share of diesel sales rise, in part because of its exposure to the Italian market, where demand for the fuel is still strong. In total, 40.6 per cent of cars sold by FCA in Europe were diesel, according to data from Jato Dynamics, up slightly from 40.4 per cent a year earlier.

More than half of FCA’s European sales were in Italy. “This is because the Italian government has not taken a clear anti-diesel position and because Italy has the third most expensive gasoline in Europe,” said Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at Jato Dynamics. 

Europe’s anti-diesel stance

Once the main fuel source in Europe, diesel has seen its share of the market fall following the VW emissions scandal, rising political opposition to the fuel type and plans by several cities to ban it altogether.

For years governments and carmakers promoted diesel as a way of lowering carbon-dioxide emissions compared with those from petrol. However, it was revealed in 2015 that Volkswagen fitted 11 million cars with software designed to deceive regulators about the vehicles’ pollution levels.

This sparked a political backlash against diesel, with governments cutting incentives for the fuel and some expecting to ban it in the future.

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Fiat-Chrysler, BMW and Intel collaboration announced

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, BMW Group and the Intel Corporation have reached an agreement to work together to develop self-driving vehicle technology.

In July of 2016, BMW Group and Intel announced they were partnering to develop self-driving technologies, and yesterday the group announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to collaborate with Fiat Chrysler.

“In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Joining this cooperation will enable [Fiat Chrysler] to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.”

The group hopes to bring new technologies that enable highly automated and fully automated driving by 2021. In a statement released yesterday, the group announced that they are on-track to deploy 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road by the end of 2017.

Waymo’s pilot vehicle, based on Fiat’s Pacifica minivan.

Professor Amnon Shashua, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Mobileye, an Intel Company says that the combination of Intel’s vision sensing and mapping technologies with the industry knowledge of BMW and Fiat Chrysler will bring cost efficient safety and versatility, across varied settings.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also signed a separate agreement with Google’s parent company Alphabet last year, and the two companies have launched a trial under the Waymo brand in the United States. Waymo has developed a self-driving car based on Fiat’s Pacifica minivan. The passenger vehicle is a likely attempt to produce a self-driving ride hailing service, the market for which could be worth $2 trillion by 2030, Reuters reports.

Fiat Chrysler New Zealand is a relatively new player in the NZ vehicle market. Established in May 2013 and owned by local distribution company Ateco Automotive, who also distributes vehicles in Australia and South Africa.

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US car sales mixed in May

General Motors reported a decline in sales for May, down one per cent to 237,364 units. Sales of the GMC Sierra ute fell 8.2 per cent to 16,200 and sales of the GMC Canyon were down 26.3 per cent to 2,477 units.

US sales also dropped one per cent for Fiat Chrysler, down to 193,040 units, with Jeep sales down 15 per cent.

Ford, however, reported an increase in sales, up 2.3 per cent to 240,050 units, with its F-Series ute up 12.8 per cent.

Sales were mixed for the Japanese car makers. Toyota saw a 0.5 per cent drop to 218,248 units, driven by a 17.3 per cent decrease in Toyota and Lexus-branded cars.

But Nissan reported a three per cent sales increase in may to 137,471 units, which the car maker attributed to rising demand for crossovers and SUVs. Sales for Honda grew 0.9 per cent to 148,414 vehicles.

Sales have typically been strong for SUVs on the back of low oil prices and growing economic optimism. In April, however, the segment fell for the first time in 11 months, and remained soft in May.

The Wall Street Journal reports that seasonally-adjusted annual sales in the US ending May 2017 is expected to fall to approximately 16.5 million, well down on the 17.3 million sales in the year ending May 2016.

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US sues Fiat Chrysler for emissions cheating

The US Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, accusing the car maker of illegally using software to bypass emissions testing regulations in over 104,000 diesel vehicles, namely Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge RAM trucks, sold since 2014.

Fiat Chrysler denies any wrongdoing and said on Tuesday it was disappointed that the US had filed the suit. According to Reuters, a spokesperson said the car maker would defend all allegations “it engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.”

The lawsuit alleges Fiat Chrysler installed ‘defeat devices’ between 2014 and 2016, which led to illegal levels of nitrogen oxide, and asks the district court to order a fix on all affected vehicles and a sales ban.

The civil case could result in a fine of up to $64,200 for each vehicle sold after November 2015, when news of the emissions scandal first broke worldwide, and $52,300 for those sold prior to this date – a total of over $6.5 billion, according to Reuters.

It’s not the first time Fiat Chrysler has found itself int he middle of an emissions scandal. In January, the EPA and the state of California filed a separate lawsuit against the car maker alleging the use of defeat devices. German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt also called for the affected vehicles to be pulled from European markets.

Both vehicles at the centre of the lawsuit are available for sale in New Zealand through certain dealers. New Zealand has no emissions standard testing or requirements for diesel vehicles, and the government currently has no plans to introduce any in the future.

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500 Chrysler minivans join AV trial

Local residents can test the self-driving cars

Google’s self-driving car project, recently renamed Waymo, is set to expand in Phoenix, Arizona, with Fiat Chrysler confirming an extra 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will join the 100 already on American roads fitted out with Waymo’s autonomous technology.

Waymo has also announced that members of the public can use the fleet of self-driving cars for everyday travel, and is taking applications from Phoenix residence who want to use the service.

“The collaboration between FCA and Waymo has been advantageous for both companies as we continue to work together to fully understand the steps needed to bring self-driving vehicles to market,” says Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

“The addition of 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans is a further acknowledgement of the hard work put forth by both engineering teams.”

Waymo CEO John Krafcik says the collaboration is “helping both companies learn how to bring self-driving cars to market, and realise the safety and mobility benefits of this technology.”

The Chrysler minivan’s electrical systems, powertrain and chassis has been modified to accommodate Waymo’s hardware, which has racked up nearly 3 million miles on on-road testing.

With self-driving technology shifting from simulation software to the roads, traditional car companies are teaming up with tech firms to ensure their stake in the rapidly growing business.

Uber’s self-driving trial in partnership with Volvo began in December last year, and stole headlines after an SUV crashed while in autonomous mode. The vehicle was found not to be at fault, and the trial quickly resumed two days later.

Ford teamed up with start-up Argo in February, and plans to begin testing AVs in Europe this year. General Motors bought out Cruise automation in 2016 to bolster their self-driving ambitions, and recently partnered with Lyft to launch self-driving Chevrolet Bolts on the road, currently planned for 2018.

Despite some public unease around self-driving cars, experts are confident autonomous technology is a safer option than human drivers – of the 1.2 million deaths that occur on roads every year, 94 per cent are attributed to human error.  

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France to investigate Fiat Chrysler

French prosecutors have confirmed a formal investigation into Fiat Chrysler has been opened over allegations the car maker cheated in diesel emissions tests.

“I can confirm that a judicial investigation has been opened into aggravated cheating,” a judicial source told Reuters.

The investigation was opened on March 15 on advice from the finance ministry’s consumer affairs and anti-fraud body, DGCCRF.

A spokesman for Fiat told Reuters the company took note of the investigation and told Reuters its diesel vehicles fully comply with emission regulations, as confirmed by the Italian Transport Ministry.

The investigation comes as several European countries found on-road nitrogen oxide emissions more than 10 times above regulatory limits for some GM, Renault and Fiat Chrysler diesel vehicles after launching their own tests. Widespread use of defeat devices was also noted.

The French test programme launched by environment minister Segolene Royal has led to Volkswagen, Renault Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group all being referred on to prosecutors.

Fiat Chrysler vehicles were among those that recorded the highest toxic nitrogen emissions.

In the UK, the government is testing the emissions of Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to the BBC.

The UK Department for Transport has also asked for details of an investigation the United States Environmental Protection Agency conducted into Fiat Chrysler’s diesel emissions software.

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FCA merger snubbed by GM, VW

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s attempts to discuss a merger with larger car makers have been rebuffed by both VW and GM in the wake of PSA’s acquisition of Opel.

On Tuesday, Marchionne said the sale would create pressure on VW, which could prompt the German car maker to sit down with Fiat Chrysler.

VW CEO Matthias Mueller dismissed the claim at the Geneva Auto Show, telling Reuters that the company was too busy with the fallout of the emissions scandal. “We’re not ready for talks about anything,” Mueller said. “We have other problems.”

The German inquiry into the VW emissions scandal is in its final days, with German chancellor Angela Merkel set to testify amid controversy over her close relationship with former CEO Martin Winterkorn and ongoing friction with US environmental authorities.

Marchionne has been a long-term advocate for mergers between car makers, which would share the costs of research and development in the effort to produce cleaner, more technologically advanced vehicles.

“You need to achieve scale or we will end up delivering an incredibly poor return and margins on this business. We need to fix this,” he said.

Mueller’s rejection of a merger follows a similar dismissal from GM, after Marchionne said the American car maker was his preferred choice.

“We weren’t interested before, and we’re even less interested now,” GM President Dan Ammann told reporters in Geneva.

Fiat Chrysler lags behind other car makers in Europe, with a market share of seven per cent and an operating margin of 2.5, below most of its rivals.

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Fiat Chrysler continues to fight EPA ban

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of FCA

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said his company is still trying to win approval to sell its 2017 diesel models in the U.S.

The EPA accused Fiat Chrysler of using hidden software to allow excess diesel emissions from 104,000 vehicles, including 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-litre diesel engines, in the U.S. and refused to grant approval for the sale of 2017 models.

Marchionne told reporters at the Geneva Auto Show that “we have been dealing with the EPA and CARB. We have engaged legal counsel. The only thing I can tell you is that we continue to work with the agencies to try and resolve this.”

The U.S Justice Department said last week that the EPA is continuing to “evaluate certification of the new model year 2017 vehicles,” according to a court filing.

The car maker faces at least nine civil lawsuits related to the emissions scandal. A judicial panel will decide whether the cases should be consolidated before a single judge on March 30, according to Reuters.

If Fiat Chrysler wins certification for the 2017 models, Marchionne said he “can take that solution and apply it back to the 2014 to 2016 cars.”

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Alfa Romeo debuts SUV at Geneva

Luxury car maker Alfa Romeo will debut its first SUV at the Geneva Auto Show this week in response to the flourishing sports utility market, alongside a refreshed Giulia sports range.

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio contains four powertrain options. The first is the 2.0-litre, 205kW turbocharged petrol engine, first launched in Europe two months ago. The diesel options are largely similar, with a 132kW 2.2-litre, and a 154kW 2.2-litre engine. Both engines are married to an automatic eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive.

At the top of the range, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio contains a 375kW 2.9-litre V6 twin turbo petrol engine, which debuted in Los Angeles last November.

The latest incarnation of the Giulia sports sedan will also be on display with a range of engine options. The first is the Giulia Veloce with a 205kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, automatic eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive. The Giulia Veloce is also on display with the same 154kW 2.2 diesel engine with an automatic eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive, as seen in the Stelvio SUV

The Guilia range tops out with the Competizione Red Quadrifoglio, equipped with a 375kW 2.9-litre V6 twin turbo petrol engine matched with an automatic eight-speed transmission.

A new version is also set to launch in Europe this month– the Giulia Super with a 2.2-litre, 133kW engine with the same automatic eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive.

The new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan is “weeks away” from its New Zealand debut, and the Stelvio SUV is scheduled to reach the country by the end of the year, according to Fiat Chrysler New Zealand.

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No defeat devices found in Fiat probe

Tests carried out on Euro-5 diesel vehicles sold in Italy have found to defeat devices, according to the Italian transport ministry. A final report on the investigation was published yesterday.

The ministry investigated 18 total diesel vehicles from various manufacturers in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal.

“Based on the tests, no defeat devices not permitted under emissions regulations in force in the European Union were found,” the ministry said in a statement.

The final report comes after a preliminary draft, obtained by Reuters last month, showed some Fiat Chrysler vehicles were initially allowed to skip key emissions tests during the investigation.

Reuters examined the data and found three of the seven Fiat Chrysler models investigated, including the Jeep Cherokee 2.0, Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6 and Lancia Ypsilon 1.3, contained missing results for on-road measurement phase and the EU ‘NEDC’ lab test. All seven Fiat Chrylser models also lack data for an ‘Artemis’ test, which adjust the lab test to reflect urban driving styles.

Previous testing by French and German authorities found the Jeep Grand Cherokee emitted between 5.3 and 9.9 times the legal nitrous oxide limit. Another independent road test of a Fiat 500L, which uses the same engine as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.6, found nitrous oxide levels more than 5.6 times the limit.

In January, Germany’s transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, called for several diesel Fiat models to be pulled from the market amid suspicions they were fitted with defeat devices. The European Commission also expressed concern at the vehicles.

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German minister urges Fiat recall

Germany’s transport minister Alexander Dobrindt has said he wants to pull Fiat models that breach emissions regulations from the market, according to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “The Italian authorities have known for several months that Fiat, in the opinion of our experts, uses illegal shut-off devices,” he claimed. The European Commission has expressed concern that the Fiat 500X hatchback in particular has been fitted with software that throttles the emissions treatment system during regulation testing to pass the current threshold.

This comes just days after the US Justice Department announced an investigation into Fiat Chrysler, the American arm of the company. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said in a statement, that he is “deeply troubled” by the EPA findings and will work with state and federal agencies to investigate claims against Fiat Chrysler. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has condemned all allegations as “absolute nonsense” in a press conference, and said his company never attempted to cheat emissions rules by detecting when the vehicle was in test mode.

Both branches of investigation have hit the Fiat Chrysler hard in the markets. US-listed shares dropped 10 per cent at the news and Milan-listed shares 16 per cent, making only modest gains on Monday. If either the European Commission or the US Justice Department prove that emissions rules were violated, Fiat Chrysler could face fines of $(USD)44,539 per vehicle.

There are no plans to halt Fiat sales in the US. Both the petrol and diesel 500X models are not available in New Zealand, but Fiat is still taking expressions of interest from prospective buyers on their local website.

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