US sues Cayman firm over disabling car-emission controls

The complaint alleges EZ Lynk manufactures and sells a product that permits drivers to “delete” computerised emission controls in their vehicles.

The US government is suing Cayman-based automobile diagnostic device manufacturer EZ Lynk SEZC for selling “defeat devices” that allow car and truck owners to disable and remove their vehicles’ emission-control software through a simple cellphone app.

The complaint filed on Monday in the federal court in Manhattan accuses the company, its owners, and a related sales company Prestige Worldwide SEZC, of having violated the federal Clean Air Act.

US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press release that emission controls on cars and trucks protect the public from the harmful effects of air pollution.

“EZ Lynk has put the public’s health at risk by manufacturing and selling devices intended to disable those emissions controls. Through our lawsuit, we will prevent Defendants from continuing to sell this product and impose civil penalties to hold them to account,” she said.

The Department of Justice also alleges that the special economic zone company and its US-based owners Bradley Gintz and Thomas Wood violated the Clean Air Act by refusing to provide the Environmental Protection Agency with information about the manufacture, sale  and use of EZ Lynk’s “defeat device”.

“EZ Lynk refused to cooperate with EPA’s investigation, and all the while continued to sell aftermarket defeat devices that resulted in harmful air pollution,” said EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield. “This is not acceptable and EPA will work diligently with the Department of Justice to stop the illegal activities and ensure that EZ Lynk complies with the Clean Air Act.”

The act requires manufacturers to design vehicles that meet detailed standards for limiting the emission of harmful air pollutants, which are linked to serious illnesses like heart and lung disease.

Car manufacturers keep vehicle emissions below the prescribed thresholds by using hardware components and software.

“The Clean Air Act makes it illegal to manufacture, sell, offer to sell, or cause to be sold any part or component that has a principal effect of defeating emissions controls, if the defendant knew or had reason to know the product is put to this use,” the Department of Justice said.

The complaint alleges EZ Lynk manufactures and sells a product that permits drivers to “delete” computerised emission controls in their vehicles.

The US government said the company’s EZ Lynk System includes a device, the Auto Agent, that plugs into a vehicle’s computer system; a cloud platform that stores the software; and a smartphone app that enables drivers to initiate the installation of the deletion software.

In its online description of the Auto Agent App, the company said the EZ Lynk System allows users to “[s]hare, record, and reprogram your vehicle easily from your Smartphone”.

Once connected, drivers can send and receive data or acquire and install calibration software known as “tunes” to reprogram their vehicles.

Many of the available tunes are so-called “delete tunes,” which are capable of defeating emission-related elements of design, the complaint said.

Although the system can be used for other performance and diagnostic purposes, the US government alleges the company knew or had reason to know that the principal use and effect of the product was to defeat emission controls.

The complaint states hundreds of drivers visited EZ Lynk’s social media forum to post their experiences “deleting” emission controls using the EZ Lynk system.

In some cases, company representatives had explicitly approved many of the posts and offered technical support to drivers disabling emission controls.

Some drivers had used the company’s forum to urge others to keep quiet about their use of the EZ Lynk System to defeat emissions controls.

The suit quotes one driver, who wrote, “If everyone keeps their mouth shut about deleting sooner or later the EPA will calm down.”

EZ Lynk was launched in mid-2016 and has manufactured and sold at least tens of thousands of EZ Lynk Systems, the Department of Justice said. The product is compatible with specific Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, GMC, Cadillac, Buick, and Nissan models.

In its complaint, the US seeks an injunction barring the sale of the EZ Lynk System, the assessment of civil penalties against all defendants, and other relief.

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