German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the European Commission must ensure that Fiat cars that break pollution rules are taken off the market, Bild am Sonntag reported.
"The Italian authorities have known for several months that Fiat, in the opinion of our experts, uses illegal shut-off devices," the Sunday newspaper quoted Dobrindt as saying. "Fiat has so far refused to participate in the clarification" of the matter and the commission "must consequently ensure that a recall is organized for the Fiat vehicles," he said.
Italian Deputy Transport Minister Riccardo Nencini said Friday that the German government's stance after the responses given by the Italian ministry is "incomprehensible." Italy's government is collaborating with the commission, Nencini said.
The commission, which is EU's executive arm, said German authorities have expressed serious concerns on emissions of the Fiat 500x. "We have repeatedly asked Italian authorities to come forward with convincing answers as soon as possible," the Commission said Friday. The commission's initiative was welcomed by the German Transport Ministry, with spokeswoman Svenja Friedrich telling reporters on Friday that "the EU Commission is now doing exactly what has been demanded for a long time: it's talking again with the Italians."
Germany's KBA motor vehicle authority has carried out investigations on several Fiat vehicles, Friedrich said at a government press conference. "The result was that a considerable reduction of the exhaust gas cleaning function occurs after a certain time. We are still of the opinion that these are unlawful switch-off facilities."
Germany's probe found that in some Fiat vehicles the emissions treatment system was throttled back after 22 minutes. The normal duration of regulatory tests for vehicle emissions is about 20 minutes. The German tests were done after the environmental lobby group DUH claimed that the 500X 2.0-liter diesel variant has NOx emissions far above legal norms.
Automakers in Europe are making liberal use of something they call a "thermal window" which refers to the time when manufacturers are allowed to throttle back emissions management systems in order to protect the engine from condensation or other damage.
Under EU rules, Italy is responsible for testing Fiat because the automaker's regional operations are based in the country. Dobrindt said in May that he doubts Fiat's cars are in line with rules for emissions certification. Then Italian Transport Minister Graziano Delrio replied in a Bloomberg interview a month later that the carmaker's vehicles were "absolutely fine" and the company showed "maximum transparency."
Italy has taken always adopted a "severe, transparent" stance on auto emissions, Delrio told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Sunday.
Fiat Chrysler is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over its alleged failure to disclose software that violated emissions standards, according to people familiar with the matter, another legal hurdle for a company already under criminal scrutiny for its sales practices. The Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday it found software in 104,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500s that allowed the automaker to exceed pollution limits on the road.
The Fiat Chrysler scrutiny follows revelations of cheating and conspiracy that has cost Volkswagen Group more than $20 billion. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said Thursday that the matter "has nothing to do" with VW. He said the software wasn't intended to bypass emissions tests or operate differently in evaluation than in real-world use, calling such allegations "absolute nonsense."
"We are confident that no one at FCA committed any fraud or tried not to be compliant," Marchionne said. "We may be technically deficient but not immoral. We never installed any defeat device."
Reuters contributed to this report