Ford Investigated Over Concerns About Improper Emissions Tests

April 29, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
2019 Ford Edge ST. The ST is the performance version of Ford's popular five-passenger Edge midsize SUV. (Ford)

Ford Motor Co. is being investigated by the Justice Department over its emissions certification process, the company said in a government securities filing Friday.

Ford said in the quarterly report that the criminal investigation focuses on its “road load estimations,” which refers to its method for calculating how much energy the powertrain must exert to achieve certain speeds. Different speeds produce different amounts of hydrocarbon emissions.

Ford said it voluntarily disclosed potential problems with the calculations to the Environmental Protection Agency in February after employees reported concerns through internal channels. The Justice Department responded with the criminal investigation.

The company said in a statement that it “cannot predict the outcome and we cannot provide assurance that it will not have a material adverse effect on us.”

Ford explained the investigation focuses on equipment that is different from the computer software Volkswagen AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV were accused of rigging to trick enforcement agencies.

Those companies’ software was designed to make vehicles emit lower levels of pollutants during testing than during regular use. Together they paid billions of dollars in fines and settlements.

Instead, “This matter currently focuses on issues relating to road load estimations, including analytical modeling and coastdown testing,” Ford said in its quarterly report.  

In addition to the EPA, the company voluntarily reported the issue to the California Air Resources Board as well as other state and federal agencies.

“Our focus is on completing our investigation and a thorough technical review of this matter and cooperating with government and regulatory agencies,” Ford said in a statement.

The road load estimation uses factors such as aerodynamic drag and tire friction to determine both fuel economy and emissions from vehicles, according to the EPA.

“Because it is difficult to measure road load directly, EPA has adopted the coastdown method to characterize road load force,” the EPA explained in a 2015 guidance. “During a coastdown test, the vehicle is allowed to decelerate with the transmission in neutral while its speed is periodically measured.”

Although Ford’s cooperation with the government is undisputed in the investigation announced Friday, the company is facing racketeering and fraud claims over its emissions tests in a separate federal court case pending in Michigan.

Ford and auto parts manufacturer Robert Bosch LLC are accused of rigging a half-million F-250 and F-350 heavy duty trucks to fool emissions tests.

Unlike some automakers, Ford has supported controversial Obama administration regulations that gradually reduce the emissions allowed from vehicles operating in the United States.

The Trump administration proposes freezing the emissions standards as a concession to other automakers who complained they would raise vehicle costs to comply with the regulations.

“We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback,” the company’s top executives said in a blog post last year.

Announcement of the Justice Department investigation had no measurable effect on Ford’s shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The stock rose nearly 11 percent in trading Friday.

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