A gentleman named Louis Bird is suing Hyundai because his 2011 Elantra isn’t getting the claimed 40 mpg that Hyundai’s ads apparently tout. Bird is being supported by a group called Consumer Watchdog, and if that rings a bell, maybe it’s because TTAC has dealt with them a few times in the past regarding Hyundai.
Before we delve into Louis Bird’s folly, let’s recap the situation for those who are just tuning in. Consumer Watchdog has been hassling Hyundai since December regarding the Elantra’s 40 MPG highway mileage claims. Mileage tests are often conducted by the automakers who then report their findings to the government, with the threat of severe financial penalties if they lie. Independent testing done by our own Jack Baruth returned “35-36 mpg in conditions which were far from the test lab“, with Baruth being satisfied by the results, even if they didn’t quite hit the 40 MPG mark that is possible under the carefully controlled conditions of a fuel economy test. Popular Mechanics was another publication that managed to match Hyundai’s claims.
The lawsuit appears to hinge on the fact that Hyundai apparently advertised the car as “The 40 MPG Elantra”, without a voice-over disclosing that the 40 MPG figure was related to a highway mileage estimate, without stating that city figures would vary significantly. The complaint acknolwedges that disclaimers did appear, but they were “neither clear nor conspicuous” since they were comprised of text being flashed at the bottom of the television ads. Bird is alleging similar tactics were used for print ads.
A chat with TTAC’s General Counsel didn’t yield a whole lot; being unfamiliar with California law, he was unable to accurately assess how successful Bird would be in getting a judgment against Hyundai. He did have some commentary on the peripheral details of the case
“Since it’s a class action Hyundai will probably want to avoid having the evidence dragged out in public through the court system, and since it’s being done on contingency the lawyers don’t want to drag it out either as the costs which they have to cover are enormous – so there’s a natural inclination on both sides to settle.”
However, unlike Honda, the Koreans are less concerned about negative publicity and may put up more of a fight. The only thing that you can say with certainty about these [class action] claims is that at the end of the day, the loser pays out a lot of $$, the plaintiffs get some token amount of damages, and the lawyers do very well.