In January of this year, the EPA delivered a violation notice to FCA, alleging that about 100,000 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 vehicles fit with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine were sold with at least eight pieces of software that were not disclosed to the agency, meant to cheat emissions tests.
The company issued a statement saying it "is now reviewing the complaint, but is disappointed" that the suit had been filed.
In a statement, FCA says is reviewing the complaint but is "disappointed" by the government's decision to file the suit.
EPA said in January the maximum fine is about $4.6 billion.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Justice Department alleges that almost 104,000 Ram pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 2014 to 2016 model years have software that allows them to emit lower amounts of pollutants during lab tests by Environmental Protection Agency than during normal driving conditions. The accusations pertain to Fiat Chrysler vehicles manufactured in 2014 through 2016. Fiat Chrysler's diesel emissions are also the subject of a US criminal probe. Gasoline versions of both models are already on sale, but the diesels can't be sold in the US without emissions certification.
"The company intends to defend itself vigorously, particularly against any claims that the company engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat USA emissions tests", according to the statement.
The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to obtain a certificate of conformity before introducing a vehicle into commerce, by demonstrating to EPA that the vehicle will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution.
The dispute recalls the fight over devices installed in certain Volkswagen cars that were created to bypass emissions tests. Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices can not be certified. Marchionne argued in the call that Fiat never attempted to create software to cheat emissions rules.
Fiat Chrysler is the seventh-largest automaker in the world based on sales, and its brands include Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat and Alfa Romeo.
The Fiat Chrysler case is similar in some aspects to the USA government's lawsuit against Volkswagen for that company's use of defeat devices on diesel cars. The EPA said in a statement Tuesday it will try to move its case to the same court.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Justice Department is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against the automaker for selling 104,000 vehicles that emit excess diesel emissions if it does not reach an agreement with the company.