The Car-Emissions Sleuth Who’s Costing Chrysler $5 Billion

In low brown-brick buildings near the University of Michigan, 350 workers test the emissions on 400 vehicles a year, tearing them apart as needed. Their tools detect pollutants like nitrogen oxide at 100 parts per billion. In a hangar-size garage, they chain 80,000-pound freight trucks in place and spin their wheels at 90 miles an hour, measuring the exhaust. Welcome to the hive of Chris Grundler—environmental sleuth, bureaucrat and more-than-occasional bane of the auto industry. As head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air-quality and transportation office, Grundler holds as much sway as any single human over how global automakers allocate more than $100 billion in R&D money each year. Sometimes they chafe. At the moment, he’s saying Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV needs to spend $5.1 billion to comply with U.S. fuel economy standards for 2025—a huge burden for a company just seven years removed from bankruptcy. But it’s a price Fiat Chrysler must and can pay, Grundler says, as the U.S. intensifies its fight against climate change.

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