Harley-Davidson fined $15m for polluting ‘super tuners’

American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson has reached a settlement with US authorities to pay $15m (£11m) and stop selling an aftermarket tuning product that exceeds national pollution limits.

The firm has made what it calls a “good-faith compromise” with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to pay a $12m (£9m) civil fine and spend an additional $3m (£2m) on a local environmental project aimed at reducing air pollution. It has also been ordered to remove a ‘super tuner’ from the US market due to its ‘illegal’ emissions potential.

The super tuner, which was intended to calibrate off-road and closed-course competition motorcycles, was deemed not in appliance with the EPA’s air pollution regulations. The EPA has now ordered the motor company to buy back the tuners and destroy them and to only continue selling devices explicitly certified as meeting the US Clean Air Act emissions standard.

‘Important step’

Despite Harley-Davidson claiming that the tuner was an “after-market, competition only product”, the EPA had suggested that, with the product being sold through a US dealer network, consumers were effectively allowed to modify motorcycles used on public roads.

Assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Cynthia Giles said: “This settlement immediately stops the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices used on public roads that threaten the air we breathe … Harley-Davidson is taking important steps to buy back the ‘super tuners’ from their dealers and destroy them, while funding projects to mitigate the pollution they caused.”

The EPA argued that, since 2008, Harley-Davidson has sold 340,000 tuners that allow consumers to alter the emission control system to increase the power and performance of road legal motorcycles, resulting in an increase in emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to above clean air certified levels.

The Agency also alleged that the motor company manufactured and sold over 12,000 motorcycles from 2006-2008 that did not hold a certificate from – nor conformed to – the EPA’s vehicle emission standards.

‘We interpret differently’

The settlement requires Harley-Davidson to obtain a certification for tuners sold in the future from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This certification will demonstrate the tuners compliance with EPA emissions limits.
Commenting on the settlement, Harley-Davidson’s government affairs director Ed Moreland said: “This settlement is not an admission of liability but instead represents a good faith compromise with the EPA on areas of law we interpret differently, particularly EPA’s assertion that it is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle even if it will be used solely for off-road/closed-course competition.

“For more than two decades, we have sold this product under an accepted regulatory approach that permitted the sale of competition-only parts. In our view, it is and was legal to use in race conditions in the U.S.”

Emissions scandals

There has been increased scrutiny on automotive emissions and the use of ‘defeat devices’ in vehicles after German carmaker Volkswagen last year admitted to using illegal software to bypass US regulations.

In late 2014, Hyundai and Kia were forced to pay a £100m fine for selling 1.2 million cars from 2012 and 2013 that reportedly breached the US Clean Air Act. At that time, the EPA claimed that the companies were overstating the fuel economy of understating the greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicles.

During US President Barack Obama’s administration, the US Government strived to ‘push in the right direction’ on reducing emissions to combat climate change. Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced late last year, aimed to cut six billion tons of air pollution in the US by 2030.

Alex Baldwin

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