When it comes to mpg, eventually you’ll have to answer to the buyer

There has been a lot of muttering lately about the mpg ratings that some companies put on their cars, as my colleague Rick Kranz noted this week.

Here’s a footnote to Rick’s column. Over lunch recently with a former product executive for a major automaker, I asked if he thought anyone was fudging their numbers.

He said that he doubted that a company would out-and-out cheat. But then he smiled and said that, well, there are ways to game the system.

For instance, he said, his former employer used to test 50 vehicles of a given model, knowing that a normal bell-shape distribution of results would probably produce one outlier with higher mpg. Results from that car would be reported.

But -- here’s the kicker -- the automaker decided to stop playing games. Not because other automakers complained. Not because the feds were applying pressure.

No, the automaker discovered that it was angering its customers, who complained that their mpg didn’t match the sticker.

That’s something to consider if you’re tempted to inflate an mpg number.

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