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FCA chief blasted PR team for 'utterly stupid' emissions denial

by Justin King

Sergio Marchionne wanted a PR manager fired for issuing an explicit denial of any emissions defeat device before the company had a chance to pursue an internal audit.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief executive Sergio Marchionne furiously reacted to his public-relations team's response to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Within days of VW's troubles coming to light, FCA PR staff apparently decided to issue an unequivocal denial that FCA employed any defeat device in its own vehicles.

"FCA US does not use 'defeat devices," Eric Mayne, FCA's manager for regulatory compliance communications, said in September 2015.

Internal documents cited in an ongoing lawsuit and reviewed by Reuters suggest Marchionne understood the potential legal difficulties that FCA could face if the internal review subsequently found evidence of non-compliance.

"Are you out of your goddamn mind?" Marchionne wrote in an email dated September 2015. He called for the company's then-SVP of communication, Gualberto Ranieri, to be fired and labeled the statement "utterly stupid and unconscionable."

By 2017, once the Environmental Protection Agency had officially accused FCA of skirting emissions regulations, spokesman Eric Mayne's statement changed to a more carefully worded promise that FCA would defend itself against any claims that it engaged in a "deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat US emissions tests."

The lawsuit also identifies earlier emails from 2014 that appear to indicate some FCA staff raised internal concerns that the company was being misleading in its regulatory filings for emissions control systems, according to Bloomberg.

"I brought this up some time back and I got push back," the employee wrote. "Lol emissions guys are cheaters, and they know it."

FCA has responded to the latest revelations by claiming it is 'inappropriate' to draw conclusions from isolated communications and internal deliberations without "more detailed context" that FCA is exploring for its ongoing investigation.