$412 Million is Pricetag to Hyundai/Kia for False Mileage Claims
Last November, Hyundai Motor Group admitted that mileage claims on Hyundai and Kia vehicles in the 2011 through 2013 model years may have been exaggerated. 1.1 million automobiles in North America, and 900,000 in the United States alone, are affected, and owners have until the end of this year to register for compensation.
Complaints to the Environmental Protection Agency triggered an investigation into mileage claims, and found both Korean manufacturers understated fuel consumption by 1-6mpg. The EPA is the US governmental bureau responsible for setting tests for fuel economy, carbon emissions, and drag profiles on roadgoing cars. While the EPA does examine and conduct tests on many vehicles, it does not have the resources and manpower to assess every single model and engine configuration released during the course of a year. In fact, a recent article in Automobile finds that unless the EPA audits a specific manufacturer or line, only 10-15% of car models are tested by the EPA itself. It instead sends all guidelines to the manufacturer, which tests its own cars and reports the findings back to the EPA.
While the grading criteria are specific, there are many ways the mileage outcome could be rigged to provide more favorable results. The Automobile article goes on to reference the Camaro SS 1LE, a performance option for the V8 pony car that includes stickier tires and different gearing than the standard car. In real life conditions, these add-ons negatively affect the mileage of the Camaro, but since not every package needs to be evaluated by testing standards, the less efficient 1LE skates by with better sticker numbers. The driver of the car can also affect the outcome of the certification: bumps are programmed into the evaluation to account for unintended acceleration spikes, and the driver is supposed to keep the accelerator at a constant pressure for the system to calculate accurate mileage. A driver could theoretically lay off the gas when one of these spikes is about to register and thereby decrease fuel consumption.
The main problem with EPA test cycles seems to be the fact that real world driving isn’t taken into account. Instead of setting someone loose on a moderately populated street in the suburbs somewhere and recording mileage, every car is put on a dynamometer that rotates according to the car’s unique drag profile with fans blowing at constant or variable speeds, with human acceleration application, etc. The end result, as we have seen with Hyundai, Kia, and possibly Ford, is that the numbers are inconsistent, to say the least. Hyundai attributes the mileage variances to testing errors, although it is difficult to guess how many such “testing errors” the EPA would find if every manufacturer was audited.
For Hyundai and Kia, all cars belonging in their 40mpg club (Kias Rio and Optima HEV and Hyundais Elantra, Accent, Veloster, and Sonata HEV) will have their memberships revoked, and many other models will see their respective consumption figures shrink by a few mpg. The average reimbursement per owner will be $88, according to the New York Times. In addition to the $412 million, the reputation of both Hyundai and Kia will suffer an incalculable amount of damage, not helped by their aggressive marketing, which heavily touted more economical models than their competitors.