Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has long denied any intentional wrongdoing in its alleged diesel cheating scandal, but federal authorities made clear Thursday in announcing a settlement in the case that they believe the automaker actively deceived regulators and the public for years.
As part of the settlement, owners of affected vehicles will be eligible for up to $3,000 in cash.
"Not only did they violate the law, they also tried to hide their actions," said Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who explained that EPA engineers had a monumental challenge in weeding through more than 100 million lines of computer code to uncover the cheating.
By comparison, he said, a Boeing 787 has about 14 million lines of code.
Between approximately $400 million in civil penalties, an extended warranty, a proposed class-action legal settlement and other costs, the Italian-American automaker is expected to spend more than $790 million to resolve cheating allegations involving approximately 100,000 2014-16 Eco-diesel Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees.
The Justice Department, however, is continuing its criminal investigation into the automaker, and officials declined to address its status during a conference call.
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While Volkswagen has become the global poster child for diesel emissions cheating, FCA's case differed in its scope, with fewer vehicles involved, and with VW's admission of wrongdoing in a scheme to fool U.S. emissions tests. Both companies, however, were accused of installing software known as defeat devices, which allowed vehicles to pollute more on roads than during testing.
In the VW case, its former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, and others at the company were charged criminally, the company paid billions of dollars in fines and millions of vehicles were affected worldwide.
FCA on Thursday continued to deny any intentional cheating.