We need answers from Hyundai, Kia
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
Earlier this month, we learned that Hyundai and Kia had sold some 900,000 vehicles in the United States with overstated fuel economy figures. Hyundai, more than Kia, prominently used those mileage figures in advertisements.
Hyundai's top U.S. executive, John Krafcik, has often trumpeted Hyundai's fuel economy superiority while chastising the industry for failing to give consumers what they really want.
Krafcik, speaking at the Chicago Auto Show in 2009, criticized the industry for having an image problem and for not being more aggressive on achieving better fuel economy.
To make matters worse, it's not the first time Hyundai has been caught overstating performance.
In the early part of this century Hyundai was caught inflating horsepower numbers. Hyundai admitted it was wrong. And, though it might have been embarrassing, Hyundai now finds itself in a similar situation.
I remember in the early 1990s when Volvo and its ad agency agreed to pay a penalty for a misleading TV commercial that featured a structurally reinforced Volvo withstanding the weight of an oversized truck rolling over it. The Federal Trade Commission fined Volvo and the agency $150,000.
I don't know whether anyone at Hyundai or Kia knew about the inflation of the mileage figures, but there are several questions that remain unanswered: Who decided to deviate from the EPA's testing procedures? Hyundai said the errors happened in Korea, but what engineer or executive changed the test? Was the EPA ever consulted about the change in procedures? Did anyone in the United States, specifically at the Hyundai tech center, perform the same emissions testing?
It is important for Hyundai to explain whether anyone knew about the mileage figures.
If U.S. executives were given bad information from Korea, it would be pretty hard to discipline the Korean decision makers, perhaps beyond a severe monetary fine.
But if any U.S. executives knew about the procedural errors and inflated numbers and proceeded to use them in Hyundai's advertising, then the folks in the United States that are responsible should be fired.
The EPA's investigation is continuing and it's unknown whether Hyundai or Kia will face fines or other penalties.
Perhaps a congressional committee could look into the matter and ascertain responsibility. That would be one way to resolve the issue.
But if Hyundai inflated mileage numbers, that would be unacceptable.
It seems like the FTC is the only government body that has any sort of jurisdiction in this case. I'm not sure the FTC's teeth are sharp enough when it comes to penalties.
I always liked the folks at Hyundai, both in the United States and Korea. I have followed Hyundai since it introduced its first automobile, the Pony, designed by Italian designer Giugiaro, in South Korea.
Both companies have come a long way from a shaky beginning. But they must get to the bottom of this.
Their employees, their dealers and their customers deserve that much.
You can reach Keith Crain at firstname.lastname@example.org.