The auto industry must halt the rash of self-inflicted wounds from failing to certify vehicle performance correctly.
In November, Hyundai Motor and affiliate Kia Motors admitted to overestimating official U.S. mileage ratings of several models. Since then, Ford Motor has faced complaints that two hybrid models don't meet claimed fuel efficiency in real life. Last month, General Motors had to recall 114,000 SUVs in India because of emission testing irregularities.
For the automakers, the direct costs of those incidents are bad enough. Hyundai and Kia had to issue make-good payments to 900,000 vehicle owners. GM fired its global powertrain boss and about 10 other employees. Even though Ford is battling media reports rather than regulators, the mess distracts executives and technical staffers.
Other, hard-to-quantify but tangible costs are even worse, enough to outweigh any benefit from the original claims. All three automakers will suffer damage to their brand images and resale values. Some current or potential customers will avoid them. Inevitably, they will spend more on marketing to attract new buyers.
But the issue is a blow to the entire auto industry, which depends on self-certifying innumerable safety, emissions and fuel economy standards to control costs. Each infraction raises the risk that regulators and legislators may perceive a pattern that warrants extra scrutiny. Worse, consumers could lose faith that automakers are telling them the truth.
Self-certifying works only if automakers are seen as truthful.
All automakers must take special care to make sure their certification efforts are transparent and rigorously inspected.