(Photo credits: Harley-Davidson)

The EPA says Harley-Davidson’s been selling upgrade parts at dealerships that push the motorcycles’ emissions over the legal limit. H-D maintains the mods were designed for “competition use only,” but has decided to settle with a $12 million fine and a $3 million forced investment in “pollution mitigation” rather than fight regulators.

Advertisement

Update: The headline was changed to make the situation more clear.

The crux of the EPA’s official statement:

Advertisement

“the EPA alleges that Harley-Davidson violated the Clean Air Act by manufacturing and selling about 340,000 devices, known as tuners, that allow users to change how a motorcycle’s engine functions. These changes can cause the motorcycles to emit higher amounts of certain air pollutants than they would in the original configuration that Harley-Davidson certified with EPA.”

“Harley-Davidson also manufactured and sold more than 12,000 motorcycles that EPA alleges did not undergo proper EPA certification to ensure they meet federal clean air standards.”

Specifically they’re referring to the Harley-Davidson Pro Super Tuner, a factory upgrade part that essentially lets you dial up the fuel flow to make a bike run better with other modifications. For example, if you add a higher-flowing air intake and exhaust, you want more gas for a bigger boom. The Pro Super Tuner allows you to make that happen. Of course, more fuel burn means more pollution and that’s where the EPA comes in to take issue.

The complete scope of the penalty:

Sponsored

  • H-D will pay a $12 million civil penalty to the EPA.
  • H-D will spend $3 million “on a project to mitigate air pollution through a project to replace conventional woodstoves with cleaner-burning stoves in local communities.”
  • H-D will stop selling the tuners by August 23.
  • H-D will offer to buy back said tuners from dealerships stocking them.
  • H-D will destroy all stocked tuners.
  • H-D promises to test tuner-equipped motorcycles to be sold in the future.

This is different from Volkswagen’s “emissions defeat-device” because:

Advertisement

Harley didn’t actively try to trick the consumer here, they did disclose the consequences of installing the devices. But they also installed the devices, and now the EPA’s making them pay said consequences.

Harley has apparently been selling the tuners since 2008 and the alleged 12,000 uncertified motorcycles in model years 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Lots of aftermarket outfits sell exhaust pipes and other mods that render motorcycles (or cars) technically emissions-illegal without penalty. It seems that regulators are taking issue with H-D in particular because the company was selling their modifications at dealerships, probably installing them on new bikes there, and thereby effectively selling over-polluting bikes directly to customers.

Advertisement

As for the 12,000 “uncertified” motorcycles:

“A certificate of conformity covers only the motorcycle models that were included in the certification application and that are listed on the certificate. These 12,000 motorcycles were models that were not included in Harley-Davidson’s applications and that were not listed as covered by the relevant certificate,” the EPA stated.

On top of the monetary penalties the company’s paying to settle, it will have to “immediately stop selling the tuners, buy back all of the tuners in stock at their dealerships and destroy the tuners.” No mention of whether or not customers who have bought the things in the last eight years will be refunded, but I suspect the answer is “no.” We will update the post if H-D elaborates.

Advertisement

Advertisement

The Agency hasn’t specified or speculated on exactly how much pollution those upgraded bikes may have caused in total, but we’ve reached out to them too to ask and will update this post if they come back with a number.

H-D’s official response:

“Harley-Davidson disagrees with the EPA’s position, noting that the tuner was designed and sold as an after-market, competition-only product used to adapt engine parameters for use with Harley-Davidson after-market equipment.”

That said, the company’s Government Affairs Director Ed Moreland adds:

Advertisement

“Concern for our U.S. customers and dealers weighed heavily in reaching this compromise with the EPA. By settling this matter, we can focus our future attention and resources on product innovation rather than a prolonged legal battle with the EPA.”

Harley-Davidson spokesperson fPatricia Sweeney further detailed to me in an e-mail that the tuners were never sold as original equipment:

“These tuners were not installed on vehicles but were used to calibrate engines after performance modifications. Dealers and/or customers made a decision to use this product to recalibrate their engines. Our expectation is that a motorcycle using this would be used for competition use only and that is how we marketed and sold it. Thus we won’t be buying back used tuners from customers.”

H-D maintains that the tuners were clearly marked “not for street use” (it does say so on the instructional website, last time I checked, which was today) and that they conveyed to customers “the legal consequences of tampering with emission controls and components, and what enhancements would void the vehicle warranty.”

Advertisement

Advertisement

But obviously they figured they were better off paying up now than going into court, or they wouldn’t have consented to the penalty.

Harley “will continue to offer a broad range of industry-leading, compliant performance products that enable customization and performance enhancements that meet all emissions requirements and maintain the company’s vehicle warranty.”

No word yet from the EPA regarding whether or not they have their sights on you if you own one of these tuners on your Harley, but the company will not be buying it back if it’s already installed.