Here we go again. The scandal that we dubbed VW’s Dirty Diesel Debacle opened a lot of folks’ eyes to the true priorities of automakers and other corporations. As reported in these pages, VW was truly sorry that it got caught, and performed several acts of contrition—it bought back a fraction of the defective cars, paid around $14 billion in a consumer class-action settlement, and established the Electrify America charging network.
Several other automakers were involved, or suspected of being involved, in similar frauds.
The latest corporate shoe to drop belongs to Cummins, best known as a maker of diesel engines for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Cummins reached an agreement in principle with the US Justice Department and the state of California under which the engine manufacturer will pay a $1.6-billion penalty to settle claims that it violated the Clean Air Act by installing defeat devices on hundreds of thousands of engines. The penalty would be the largest ever under the Clean Air Act, and the second largest environmental penalty in US history.
Defeat devices consist of hardware and/or software that bypass pollution sensors, allowing vehicles to pass emissions inspections while still emitting high levels of smog-causing pollutants such as nitrogen oxide.
The Justice Department has accused Cummins of installing defeat devices on 630,000 model year 2013 to 2019 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup truck engines. The company is also alleged to have secretly installed auxiliary emission control devices on 330,000 model year 2019 to 2023 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup truck engines.
Stellantis will recall all the trucks in question, and a spokesman for Cummins said that the software will be recalibrated to ensure that the vehicles are fully compliant with federal emissions law.
Cummins said that it had “seen no evidence that anyone acted in bad faith and does not admit wrongdoing.” The company said it has “cooperated fully with the relevant regulators [and] already addressed many of the issues involved. Cummins conducted an extensive internal review and worked collaboratively with the regulators for more than four years.”
“EPA is on the job because of what was learned through the Volkswagen scandal, and their oversight has increased significantly,” said Luke Tonachel, an expert on clean vehicle policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Our government needs to continue to be vigilant to ensure cheating doesn’t continue.”