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Hyundai, Kia Sued Over Gas Mileage Claims

DETROIT NEWS

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors Corp. just two days after the Korean automakers admitted overstating the estimated fuel economy on the window stickers of a majority of 2012 and 2013 models.

Hyundai and Kia on Friday admitted overstating mileage on nearly 1.1 million vehicles in North America sold since 2010, including about 900,000 in the United States.

The automakers have agreed to compensate current and former owners, giving them debit cards that estimate the amount of additional money they spent on gasoline because of the lower gas mileage.

The 14-page lawsuit, filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in southern Ohio, seeks more than $5 million in damages. It was filed on behalf of Rebecca Sanders and Jeffrey Millar, Canadian citizens and residents of Cincinnati who purchased a 2013 Hyundai Elantra; and Molly Simons, a resident of Warren County, Ohio, who purchased a 2012 Kia Rio.

The suit filed by a Cincinnati law firm claims the automakers "knowingly or recklessly exaggerated estimated gas mileage and fuel economy rating information … in order to entice" the owners into buying the vehicles.

Hyundai spokesman Chris Hosford said the company had just received the lawsuit. "We just got the lawsuit in today and our legal team is still reviewing it," he said.

The issue came to light after an Environmental Protection Agency investigation turned up discrepancies between the window stickers and EPA testing.

The automakers — both controlled by the same Korean automaker but run as separate sales and marketing companies in the United States — will reimburse owners for the overstated fuel efficiency for as long as they own the cars, plus 15 percent. Hyundai said a typical owner of a vehicle in Florida driving 15,000 miles a year could get a $88 refund this year, in addition to future refunds for as long as they own the car.

The bill could top $100 million. EPA's investigation is ongoing; the agency may seek civil penalties over the misstated claims.

The restatement will reduce Hyundai-Kia's fleetwide average fuel economy from 27 miles per gallon to 26 mpg for the 2012 model year. Individual ratings, depending on the car, will fall from 1 mpg to 6 mpg. Most vehicles will see combined city-highway efficiency drop by 1 mpg.

Hyundai has tweaked rivals for claiming 40 mpg in a specialized model, such as an Eco version, through its "Save the Asterisks" campaign. The automaker has touted its fuel efficiency and prodded others to be more forthcoming about the overall mileage average of vehicles that are actually sold. Some automakers have grumbled that because Hyundai doesn't sell pickups, it keeps its overall average high.

Now, because of the faulty testing, Hyundai is retracting claims that three of its four 2013 models get 40 mpg.

Consumer Watchdog, a consumer group, said that following a barrage of consumer complaints, it had asked the EPA to audit mileage of the Elantra in January. It ultimately filed a false advertising suit against Hyundai for widely advertising the "40 mile per gallon Elantra."

"The EPA rightly audited Hyundai and the public deserves to know the whole truth about why these test results were inaccurate and whether or not they were intentionally falsified," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

The lawsuit, filed in July in California, claims Hyundai misled consumers about gas mileage. It asserted "illegal advertisements caused tens of thousands of California drivers to purchase or lease 2011 and 2012 Elantras and consequently incur unexpected fuel costs."

Hyundai and Kia have set up websites to address consumer questions. In the U.S., they are hyundaimpginfo.com and www.kiampginfo.com. In Canada they are: www.hyundaifuelconsumption.ca and www.kiafuelconsumption.ca.

dshepardson@detnews.com

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