Calling carmaker out on false claims

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By Denis Droppa

Everybody likes a good David-versus-Goliath story where the little guy comes out on top, and such is the case of a lone motorist who forced a major motor company to change its advertising over a false fuel-consumption claim.

Pretoria’s Alain Stroud took Volkswagen South Africa to the Advertising Standards Authority after finding that his Jetta 1.4 TSI Comfortline failed to deliver on its optimistic economy claims; the reason he bought the car. After having no luck with taking his complaint to VWSA, he paid for a fuel consumption analysis that he took to the ASA, which ruled that the car advert had been misleading and made VW withdraw the fuel consumption figures it advertised.

It’s a victory for the consumer over what’s perceived as a big and unfeeling corporate, but VW is not alone in making unrealistic fuel consumption claims.

LIGHTFOOTED PATIENCE

In the many cars road tested by this publication, we’re almost never able to match advertised consumption figures, which are attained by motor-company test drivers in controlled conditions that differ from the cut-and-thrust of real-world traffic. Unless you’re prepared to drive with the light-footed patience of a buddhist monk on valium, you can seldom expect to match the factory’s quoted figure. As a rule of thumb you can add another litre or two for every 100km to any car’s claimed consumption.

This discrepancy is something we’ve always highlighted in our road test reports. To give our readers all the facts, we quote the claimed factory figure and the real-world consumption figures our journalists are able to attain in a mix of urban and freeway driving.

The ASA ruling opens a bigger can of worms in that consumers could also take motor companies to task over their performance claims. In particular, a car’s 0-100km/h figure is almost always quoted by the manufacturer at sea level where it’s quicker than in the thinner air of high altitude.

PERFORMANCE GAP

So a Johannesburg driver expecting their new performance car to blitz to 100 in five seconds – as claimed at sea level – will be disappointed to see it’s actually around a second slower up where he/she lives. (There’s less of a performance gap in turbo or supercharged cars – which aren’t as altitude-sensitive as normally aspirated cars – but there’s usually still a difference).

This is why we conduct our own high-altitude acceleration tests on the vehicles we evaluate, using a satellite-based Racelogic Vbox to accurately record 0-100km/h and quarter-mile sprint times, so that our Gauteng readers also know what they’re buying.

Alain Stroud is a crusader who went further than the average consumer is prepared to, but his case underlines that motor companies can’t expect everyone to willy-nilly swallow their claims. The ASA ruling doesn’t mean companies must stop advertising their cars’ consumption and performance figures, it means they need to be more careful about what they publish and explain the conditions under which their figures were obtained.

Hiding behind a veil of transparency is always the best policy. - Star Motoring

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