Yes, many cars to do not meet their EPA ratings. But few are as far off as the Elantra… In your Elantra advertising, you prominently feature only your “40 mpg” claim. Yet the dismal independent test and real-world results for your city and combined mileage claims mean buyers are unable to make accurate comparisons. This is in effect a deception, and one we ask you to discontinue in your advertising while awaiting a welcome EPA re-evaluation.
This letter, sent to Hyundai USA CEO John Krafcik yesterday by “Consumer Watchdog”, doesn’t mince words. It does, however, raise two questions:
1) What exactly is “Consumer Watchdog”?
2) Does the organization have a valid point?
The 40-mpg pitch has been a big part of Hyundai’s small-car strategy in the past year, with the “unique selling proposition” being that all of Hyundai’s Accents and Elantras, not just special “SFE” or “Eco” models, hit that mark. Now, a California public-interest group has called BS on the MPG and requested that the EPA formally test the Elantra themselves?
The EPA doesn’t perform mileage tests?
That’s right. The vast majority of mileage results come from internal manufacturer testing to EPA specs, reported to the government and duly republished. Since the penalty for lying to the government in this country tends to be rather massive for anyone not directly involved in the banking industry, one assumes the results are honest. When it comes to Hyundai, however, the issue isn’t quite as clear-cut.
“Consumer Watchdog” offers a full copy of its letter to Hyundai on its website. Perhaps the most difficult issue to dodge:
In a separate category are Fuelly.com reports (from the most conservative fuel-conscious drivers), that measured the Elantra at 6.7% below stated MPG combined—in the Fuelly world, that put Elantra at the bottom of 12 models claiming to get 40 MPG in some fashion. The Honda CRZ, at the middle of the pack, exceeded its EPA combined rating of 37 MPG by 2 MPG, or 5.5%. This means consumers are getting a poor relative value when they buy the Elantra on the
basis of MPG. This is especially disturbing to city drivers.
Alright, so these people may have a point… but who are they? The registration information for the consumerwatchdog.org site looks like this:
Registrant Name:Doug Heller
Registrant Organization:Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rig
Registrant Street1:1750 Ocean Park Blvd.
Registrant Street2:Ste 200
Registrant City:Santa Monica
Registrant Postal Code:90405
The Wikipedia page for the organization states that it was founded in 1985 by California Prop 103 author Harvey Rosenfield, a former Ralph Nader associate. Until now, they appear to have focused on medical and health-insurance-related issues, with a brief diversion into “investigating” Google’s privacy practices. A brief argument on the Wiki discussion page alleges that the principals of Consumer Watchdog have been employed by Microsoft in the past.
Like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Operation PUSH, Consumer Watchdog appears to be an organization which pushes for certain progressive-agenda items, occasionally with corporate backing. Why has Hyundai come across their radar screen? The idealist in me wants to believe that they are genuinely concerned about falsely reported mileage claims; the cynical devil on my shoulder suggests it’s simply a shakedown targeting a cash-rich company with a publicity-averse Korean parent. Perhaps they’re relying on Krafcik weighing the costs of EPA testing against the costs of making a relatively minor seven-figure contribution to Consumer Watchdog. It’s anybody’s guess.
We’ll be watching Consumer Watchdog as they watch Hyundai. If they back off, we will be asking whether or not someone got paid. In the meantime, feel free to share your opinion, and your experiences with Hyundai fuel economy, below.