LOS ANGELES -- Hyundai and Kia dealers, after lavishing owners with apologies, free service and car washes, report little -- if any -- backlash from customers who bought vehicles with inflated fuel economy ratings.
And the dealers are pleased because the reimbursement program brings customers back to the dealerships.
In November Hyundai and Kia admitted that the fuel economy ratings of 13 nameplates from the 2011-13 model years were inflated, accounting for some 900,000 sold vehicles.
The companies apologized to dealers and owners and promised to reimburse owners of the affected vehicles for the extra gasoline bought by those consumers for as long as they owned the vehicles.
"The first thing they did was apologize to us," said Henry Primeaux, owner of Primeaux Kia in Tulsa, Okla. "I've been with a lot of franchises and nobody's ever done that before."
Hyundai and Kia gave dealers cash to help pay for freebies or other goodwill-related charges to please owners of vehicles with inflated mileage ratings, dealers say.
"Hyundai did reimburse the dealerships to cover the goodwill that we needed to do to make these customers happy," said Mike DeSilva, general manager of Liberty Hyundai in Mahwah, N.J. "We've given free service, car washes. Little things like that."
Owners of the affected Hyundai and Kia vehicles were told to go to their local dealerships for mileage audits. After the audits, they get debit cards in the mail from Hyundai or Kia. Consumers must return to the dealerships for subsequent mileage checks in order to recharge their debit cards.
"I'm thrilled with any program that brings customers back," said Don Hobden, executive manager of six Kia dealerships in Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky and the brand's national dealer council chairman.
Hobden said having customers return to the service drive for the mileage audits required to receive the debit card funds means opportunities for more service work or at least to build good will. He also said he has heard of only one upset customer from his stores.
"Some customers are actually reacting with some form of delight: 'Really? I'm getting a debit card?'" Hobden said. "It's been really well received."
Dealer Primeaux in Tulsa, who said his staff told customers about the reimbursement program in marketing newsletters and face-to-face in the service drive, says the program went smoothly.
He also gave away oil changes and other services to affected customers.