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Fiat Chrysler will pay Tesla to dodge billions in emissions fines

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FCA is developing electric and hybrid cars, but not fast enough to meet new rules in 2021

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has struck a deal with Tesla to count the Silicon Valley automaker’s cars as part of its fleet in the European Union, lowering FCA’s average emissions output ahead of strict new EU regulations coming in 2021. Tesla will make “hundreds of millions of euros” from the sale of these emissions credits, according to the Financial Times.

The scheme resembles the way regulatory credits can be bought and sold in the United States, which has been a steady (if relatively small) business for Tesla for many years. The electric automaker made $103 million selling emissions credits in 2018, $280 million in 2017, and $215 million in 2016, according to a recent financial filing.

FCA, which owns brands like Jeep and Dodge, announced in mid-2018 that it plans to spend 9 billion euros (or just over $10 billion) by 2022 to add more electric and hybrid cars to its lineup. But analysts have said that is likely not enough to avoid billions of euros in fines for exceeding the EU’s target, which is 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer average across a carmaker’s whole fleet. In 2018, Fiat Chrysler’s average was estimated at 123 grams per kilometer.

Not only are the FCA fleet’s average emissions among the worst in the industry, the automaker was sued by the US Department of Justice in 2017 for allegedly using software to fool regulators into thinking its cars were compliant. FCA settled those charges for $800 million without admitting any wrongdoing, but it also recently recalled nearly 1 million vehicles in the US for violating emissions standards.

Tesla brought in $21.4 billion in revenue in 2018, with $7.2 billion coming in the final quarter alone, so hundreds of millions of euros will make up a small portion of the overall money the company generates. But Tesla might still need help with its cash this year. While the company hasn’t released financial figures for the first quarter of 2019, it announced last week that it saw a quarter-to-quarter decline in deliveries for the first time in almost two years. And CEO Elon Musk said in February that he didn’t expect the company to turn a profit in the first quarter after posting back-to-back profits for the first time in the company’s history in the second half of 2018.

Tesla finished 2018 with $3.7 billion in cash, but $920 million of that was used to pay off some of the company’s $11 billion debt that came due in March. Following the release of the delivery figures, some typically bullish Wall Street analysts (like Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas) estimated that the automaker burned through more of those reserves this quarter. Jonas and others have also estimated that Tesla will need to raise more money this year — something Musk has denied.