The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air-quality and transportation office in Michigan is raising hackles for automakers – especially Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and its $5.1 billion tab.

Chris Grundller, director of the EPA’s transportation and air quality office, says that FCA needs to spend $5.1 to comply with U.S. fuel economy standards for 2025. While it’s a vulnerable place to be for a company that emerged from bankruptcy seven years ago, Grundler says it’s a price FCA must and can pay.

In the 1,217-page Technical Assessment Report published in July by EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board, Grundler made a comparison of regulatory costs facing FCA and Honda. The report predicts FCA will need to spend $2,254 per vehicle to comply with 2025 goals, more than twice Honda Motor Co.’s $901 projected cost.

The report says FCA has the heaviest and least fuel-efficient U.S. fleet, and is not investing in plug-in electrified vehicles. A quarter of FCA’s fleet will also need to have stop-start devices installed to meet targets, while Honda won’t need any of these devices.

Grundler and his EPA team test and assess FCA vehicles, and many other automakers’ vehicles, in buildings near the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. About 350 workers test emissions on 400 vehicles per year, tearing them apart as needed, reports Automotive News.

In a hangar-size garage, their machines test for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide at 100 parts per billion. They’re able to able to chain 80,000-pound freight trucks in place and spin their wheels at 90 miles an hour, measuring the exhaust. Portable Emissions Measurement Systems are used at the site, and elsewhere, to measure pollutants under real-world driving conditions in light-duty vehicles. Tanks contain air that EPA uses to calibrate the portable testing equipment (as seen above in the photo).

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Grundler’s lab helped confirm last year that Volkswagen had installed the software devices for deceptive results in diesel emissions tests – which Grundler testified on this week on before a European Union investigative committee. His work may increase as self-driving cars roll out faster with the Obama administration setting a clearer regulatory path last week for self-driving cars.

“Will self-driving be heaven or hell? Utopia or dystopia?” Grundler said in an interview with Automotive News. “I don’t have the answers. But we’ve certainly concluded there is an environmental public-policy aspect that needs to be considered.”

Some auto analysts and executives are contesting Grundler’s conclusions in the fuel economy report – and the cost automakers will carry.  EPA cost projections may be misleading because Grundler and his team can make mistakes about technology, said Mike Dahl, FCA’s head of regulatory compliance.

Robert Bienenfeld, Honda’s assistant vice president for U.S. environmental strategy, disagreed with Grundler’s estimate. Honda’s company’s per-vehicle compliance costs could be double Grundler’s $901 estimate if they were measured more accurately and included California’s zero-emission car requirement, he said.

“We believe the targets are good, although it will be more expensive and take more technology than the agencies recognize,” said Bienenfeld.

Grundler, who joined the EPA in 1980, was promoted to his current job in 2012. In 1997, the lab gained notice when Grundler bought a pickup and modified the catalytic converter. He used test results to disprove automaker claims that trucks can’t meet the same emissions standards as cars.

The goals may be steep for 2025, but they’ll be even tougher beyond. Emissions will need to fall another 77 percent by 2050 for the transportation sector to help meet carbon dioxide reduction pledges President Obama made last year at the Paris climate change talks.

“We’re going to need a lot of zero and near-zero emissions technology coming into the fleet,” Grundler says. “Facts are facts.”

Automotive News