Fiat Chrysler is in settlement talks with the US Justice Dept over 2014-16 Jeep Grand Cherokees fitted with the 3.0-litre diesel. Picture: Cam Ward
Fiat Chrysler is in settlement talks with the US Justice Dept over 2014-16 Jeep Grand Cherokees fitted with the 3.0-litre diesel. Picture: Cam Ward

Fiat Chrysler boss unloads on employee

FIAT-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne berated his PR boss for claiming that Fiat-Chrysler didn't have "defeat devices" on its Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel models, according to a class-action suit heard in a US court this week.

The Wall Street Journal reports Marchionne allegedly sent an email in 2015 to his PR boss, Gualberto Ranieri, asking: "Are you out of your goddamn mind?".

The email also said Ranieri's actions were "utterly stupid and unconscionable" and he should be sacked.

Ranieri had issued a public statement asserting Fiat Chrysler did not employ "defeat devices" in the wake of Volkswagen's admission to cheating on emissions tests.

The correspondence is included in a class-action suit filed by shareholders who claim the company misled them about safety and emissions issues, causing the share price to fall.

The action also alleges Fiat-Chrysler staff suspected the carmaker used software in diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on US emissions tests.

Fiat-Chrysler has defended the email, saying that Marchionne's response was justified.

"It is understandable that our CEO would have a forceful response to any employee who would opine on such a significant and complex matter, without the matter having been fully reviewed through the appropriate channels. This is particularly true given that the statements were made within only a few days of the Volkswagen diesel issue becoming public, and before a comprehensive internal review and discussions with component suppliers was possible."

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is alleged to have called his US communications chief “utterly stupid” for publicly denying the existence of illegal emissions software in the company’s vehicles. Picture: AFP
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is alleged to have called his US communications chief “utterly stupid” for publicly denying the existence of illegal emissions software in the company’s vehicles. Picture: AFP

Monday's disclosures regarding Fiat Chrysler come as the carmaker is in settlement talks with the US Justice Department over a lawsuit filed last year which accuses the company of violating the Clean Air Act by allowing vehicles to produce emissions that were more than 20 times the legal limit.

The Wall St Journal reports this week's statement from Fiat Chrysler notes that while it is in settlement talks with the government and private parties, it will "vigorously" defend itself against any claim that it intentionally cheated on emissions tests.

Volkswagen was last year convicted of installing illegal software on almost 600,000 diesel vehicles sold in the US. The defeat devices operated during the official testing regime to reduce emissions to the mandated level but them emitted far more pollutants in regular driving. The company has since paid billions in reparations and fines.

This week's lawsuit disclosure also cites internal Fiat Chrysler documents suggesting executives were aware of defeat devices in Chrysler vehicles.

In one example the lawsuit quotes an employee working in the on-board diagnostics documentation team as saying: "I brought this up some time back and I got push back Lol emissions guys are cheaters, and they know it."

Fiat-Chrysler says the emails cited in the document have already been provided to regulators and that the company continues to co-operate with the ongoing probes into its diesels.

"It is inappropriate to draw conclusions from isolated communications and internal deliberations, without the more detailed context that is part of the reviews FCA is conducting as part of the investigation process," the company said in a statement to the journal.


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