Harley shock emissions fine
19th August 2016
EPA | Screamin' Eagle | Performance tuner
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Harley-Davidson has been clobbered with a huge fine for flogging its Screamin' Eagle Street Performance Tuners, or ignition remapping modules. The US Environmental Protection Agency, whilst working with the Department of Justice, decided that the tuner, although marketed as an aftermarket accessory largely for off-road use, violated the spirit of the law if not the law itself.
The agency took its complaint to Harley-Davidson, and Milwaukee's most famous son, faced with a messy law suit from a dangerous litigant with deep pockets (and friends in high places) agreed to settle out of court to the tune of £9.1million (around $12million), plus an additional slap on the wrist of £2.1million (around $3million) which will be used to support an anti-pollution project. But Harley-Davidson, take note, has not accepted liability.
Moreover, according to the EPA, the firm "... also manufactured and sold more than 12,000 motorcycles that did not undergo proper EPA certification to ensure they meet federal clean air standards."
The US government's complaint dates back to 2008 when the EPA first started poking its nose ("conducted a routine inspection") into the sale of the devices.
Since then (or possibly since the tuners were first put on sale 20 years ago), the firm has retailed 340,000 of the units which are designed to release a few more horses, albeit at the expense of a little dirtier air (both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides). The devices can be interfaced with customers' computers and tweaked and adjusted in order to (a) provide an analysis of the engine's current performance, and (b) enhance or otherwise provide a little (or a lot) more grunt.
Harley-Davidson's sales material advises buyers:
NOTE: Street Tuner permits limited tunability within the emissions range to optimize drivability without compromising emission levels. It also features expanded tuning options outside of the emissions range to optimize performance.
The company has also promised that the remaining factory stock of these £250 (or $250 in the US) "defeat devices" will be gathered up and destroyed, and the company will contact dealers to buy back their stock for destruction.
Think it can't get any messier? Well it does. Harley-Davidson has been told to deny warranty claims relating to bikes fitted with these devices. This could open the doors for individual or class action against the firm, and it certainly won't do anything for customer goodwill.
Following the news, the firm's shares promptly took a nose dive and fell
94 cents to $53.54.
Many other companies have in recent years fallen foul of the EPA in much the same way, and of course all eyes are still focussed on the VW "emissionsgate" or "dieselgate" debacle in which the huge (read: oversized) German firm programmed its emissions module to behave very differently/advantageously while having their numbers checked under the spotlight of laboratory/workshop scrutiny. Around 11 million cars were involved. Huge payouts are underway, largely for customers who couldn't give a hoot about the subterfuge and a slightly sootier atmosphere, but ain't about to pass up the offer of some extra cash.
We contacted a few UK Harley-Davidson dealers to check the position on this side of the pond. None that we spoke to knew of the issue (but it's early days, of course), and therefore the tuners are currently still for sale.
The underlying story is, perhaps, the realisation that in the wake of the Volkswagen issue, the US EPA has become far more aggressive and is now wielding a much bigger hammer. Harley-Davidson has numerous products in its options catalogue that, arguably, are treading a similar path to the tuners. And there are many other manufacturers who, although keeping strictly to the letter of the law, are also operating beyond the spirit of the legislation and retailing in a grey area that's turning rapidly black.
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