While Volkswagen has reached a historic settlement and had to buy back hundreds of thousands of its diesel cars in the U.S., it isn’t the only automaker to be investigated for cheating on diesel emissions.
Fiat Chrysler recently agreed to recall its Ram and Jeep EcoDiesels and pay owners for misleading advertising claims.
A third case, against Mercedes-Benz Bluetec diesels, just won approval by a court in New Jersey and can now proceed.
Previously dismissed for lack of plaintiffs' standing, on Friday chief judge Jose Linares of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey ruled that a class-action suit can move forward against Mercedes-Benz. It alleges that Mercedes used an emissions-cheating device in its Bluetec diesels similar to those Volkswagen admitted to using in its diesel settlement.
The suit involves perhaps 100,000 Mercedes-Benz Bluetec diesel luxury cars and SUVs and Sprinter commercial vans from model years 2009 to 2016.
The legal complaint alleges that the cars emit as much as 83 times as many oxides of nitrogen in highway testing as the legal limit allows. Nitrogen oxides are linked to smog, which in turn is linked to respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
It also claims that the cars exceed federal limits on particulate emissions which have been linked to cancer, and most recently to dementia, according to a report in the Washington Post.
According to the complaint against Mercedes, the company’s diesels exhibit essentially the same behavior as VWs did, detecting when the cars were undergoing emissions testing, and only operating emissions controls to their fullest effect during the tests.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 BlueTEC, upstate New York, April 2013
Mercedes may have used different strategies to detect when the cars were undergoing emissions testing as well, such as only operating the emissions systems when the engine was at certain temperatures and disabling them when the car was on either a steep up or down hill, for example.
With the emissions controls disabled, the complaint alleges, the cars gained more power and got better fuel economy.
Such software strategies are considered “defeat devices” under EPA emissions regulations.
As with Volkswagen, the complaint alleges that Mercedes worked with German supplier Bosch, which supplied the hardware and software for the emissions control systems in the diesel cars.
Bosch also provided hardware and software in the recalled Jeep and Ram, and settled that case. Chrysler had to take its diesel vehicles off the market in 2017, though they were later recertified and sold in 2018. In separate cases, Chrysler and diesel-engine supplier Cummins recalled five years' worth of heavy duty Ram trucks, and the Justice department allowed Chrysler to settle a criminal complaint over its light-duty Ram and Jeep EcoDiesel models.
The affected Mercedes cars include the GLK, GL, and GLS SUVs, and C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class sedans from 2009 to 2016. Daimler, Mercedes' German parent, which sells Mercedes-Benz cars and Sprinter vans, showed in its annual report for 2017 that it was under investigation by both the EPA and the DOJ in the U.S.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec - First Drive, August 2013
When contacted for comment by Green Car Reports, Mercedes-Benz spokesman Robert Moran said in an emailed statement: “We believe that these claims are without merit, and we are pleased that the court recognized the deficiencies in some of plaintiffs’ claims. We intend to continue vigorously defending against the remaining claims. The court’s decision today merely addressed certain legal aspects of plaintiffs’ claims and did not decide whether the plaintiffs’ can ultimately prove their claims, whether the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, or whether their claims have merit.”
The court found that certain state-level legal arguments don’t apply, but allowed most of the plaintiffs' arguments to proceed.