The U.S. division of the carmaker Stellantis has agreed to plead guilty in federal court in Detroit to a conspiracy charge and to pay a $300 million penalty to resolve an investigation of the company’s attempts to evade diesel emission standards, the Justice Department said Friday.
The company, which was formed when Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot merged, also agreed to cooperate with federal authorities as part of its plea agreement, a statement released by prosecutors said.
The investigation centered on a claim that Fiat Chrysler tried to evade emission standards for some of its pickup trucks and Jeeps. Prosecutors said the U.S. division, also known as FCA US, had misled customers and regulators for years.
“We expect all corporations to deal with regulators and the public openly and honestly,” Dawn N. Ison, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, one of our district’s biggest corporations fell far short of that standard, resulting in today’s guilty plea.”
The company, in a statement on Friday, confirmed that it had agreed to resolve the criminal investigation with a guilty plea and a fine. Court documents show that the company had agreed early last month to plead guilty but that the agreement was not signed by federal prosecutors and filed with the court until Friday.
Prosecutors said the investigation had found that the company designed software in some of its older vehicles that helped them meet emission standards during federal testing but not when customers were driving them. The authorities said the deception had enabled Fiat Chrysler to market the vehicles as being environmentally friendly and having “best-in-class fuel efficiency.”
In a related case, prosecutors indicted three company employees last year on similar charges that they had conspired to violate the Clean Air Act by misleading regulators and customers about diesel emission standards.
The company paid hundreds of millions of dollars in 2019 to settle lawsuits arising from the scheme. At the time it was estimated that settlement and related vehicle recalls would cost Fiat Chrysler about $800 million.
In pleading guilty, the company also agreed to put in a compliance and ethics program to detect future attempts at similar deceptive conduct. The company’s guilty plea is subject to court approval, and sentencing is scheduled for July 18.