Hyundai and Kia, the Korean car brands that have gone from econobox afterthought to mainstream market force are facing a class action lawsuit that accuses them of inflating their fuel economy estimates.
We all know that the sticker on the window that promises 40 miles per gallon is, shall we say, optimistic, right? So what is this lawsuit about?
An Environmental Protection Agency investigation found that thirteen models had inflated fuel economy ratings, including the top-selling Hyundai Elantra and Kia Sorrento, reports the Los Angeles Times. Even the funky Kia Soul faces an adjustment to its estimated MPG rating, by six miles per gallon highway.
Hyundai blames the issue on “procedural errors” at their testing facility in South Korea. They have also offered to reimburse owners for the difference using debit cards that will be filled with a dollar amount to be determined based on the miles driven by the owner and the fuel price in the region.
For a California owner of a 2012 Elantra, who drove 15,000 miles in the last year, that means a whopping $67, according to the Times.
The lawyers and customers aren’t happy however. The proposed remedy requires owners to go to a dealership annually and fill out paperwork in order to get the reimbursement. Plus, if a settlement was reached that easily, how would the lawyers make any money? Also, the lawyers are arguing that a reduction in the car’s fuel economy rating will hurt the resale value of the car. They want that factored in to any potential settlement as well.
Legally, one wonders how much of a claim Hyundai and Kia’s customers actually have. The stated MPG ratings are estimates, not guarantees. For nearly all of the affected models, the official MPG rating will only change by one or two miles per gallon. If an automaker promises an estimated MPG figure and the customer gets something near that figure, was the promise (and contract) actually broken? Plus, with the variance from driver to driver, some drivers are probably exceeding the EPA’s air-conditioned rating.
The only way these claims should survive is if they can prove that there was intentional deception and by extension, fraud. If they succeed in convincing a jury that the automakers defrauded their customers, the damages could be staggering, as fraud often allows triple damages as a punitive measure.
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