German automaker Daimler AG has agreed to pay $285.6 million to the state of California for illegally bypassing vehicle emissions controls — violations identified by a testing facility in El Monte, the California Air Resources Board announced Monday.
“Californians live with some of the worst air in the country, air that adversely impacts public health causing or contributing to asthma, respiratory disease and premature death. It also costs the economy through medical costs as well as lost work and schools days,” said CARB Chair Mary Nichols. “Automakers must learn that in this state, CARB will continue to use the very latest and most sophisticated science and technology to catch cheating and violations that impact our air and health.”
The settlement with Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC includes an agreement to repair all affected diesel passenger vehicles and Sprinter delivery vans — 37,000 in California and a quarter of a million vehicles nationwide — at no cost to owners.
Notification to owners is pending court approval of the settlement, which is expected to cost the company a total of $1.5 billion in civil and other penalties related to the federal Clean Air Act and California law, federal and California mitigation projects, and a recall and warranty extension program, according to EPA officials.
Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of similar violations by Volkswagen. CARB discovered the Daimler violations in 2009-2016 diesel vehicles using advanced testing methods and protocols it developed in response to the Volkswagen case and specific to the Daimler vehicles.
Daimler models were inspected and tested at CARB’s facility in El Monte, as well as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing facilities in Michigan.
CARB plans to move its certification and testing operations to a new, advanced laboratory facility in Riverside next year.
The Daimler diesel vehicles involved in this case emitted several times the legal amount of smog-forming pollution, depending on the model, according to CARB officials. Oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, contributes to the formation of ozone and particulate matter. It can greatly aggravate health problems such as asthma and cardio-pulmonary disease, and is a particularly serious and expensive problem in California, where more than 10 million residents are estimated to live in areas with dangerous levels of ozone and particulate matter.
Defeat devices are software programs that alter or shut down a vehicle’s emission control system under normal driving operation resulting in excess emissions. The software is only permitted to do so to protect the engine or under other specific conditions disclosed to regulators as part of the vehicle certification.
Daimler did not disclose the existence of the auxiliary emission control devices. In addition, the software was designed to change the vehicles’ performance to meet rigorous emission standards during certification testing in the lab but to then shut down emission control equipment during real-world driving.
“The message we are sending today is clear. We will enforce the law. We will protect the environment and public health. And if you try to cheat the system and mislead the public, you will be caught,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Those that violate public trust in pursuit of profits will forfeit both.”
The case was resolved with two consent decrees. The first — under which California will receive about $174 million — was signed by Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz USA, CARB, U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice. The second consent decree is California-specific and includes a payment of $110 million for mitigation and about $1.7 million for violations of vehicle on-board diagnostics regulations.
Under the decrees, Daimler must repair at least 85% of the affected passenger cars within two years and at least 85% of the affected vans within three years. It must also offer an extended warranty covering all updated software and hardware and test repaired vehicles each year for the next five years to ensure the vehicles continue to meet emissions standards.
In addition, the company agreed to implement systemic reforms to detect and prevent future violations, including a robust whistleblower program.