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by Tim Beissmann

A Californian superior court judge has overturned a ruling that found Honda misled customers by overstating the fuel economy of its US-market Honda Civic Hybrid.

South Californian woman Heather Peters was awarded US$9867 ($9800) in February after a small-claims court judge agreed Honda fraudulently represented the potential fuel economy of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid and convinced her to purchase what she described as an “unsatisfactory vehicle”.

Peters argued Honda’s advertising material and the US government’s official fuel consumption measure of 50 miles per gallon (4.7 litres per 100km) – which was retrospectively adjusted to 42mpg (5.6L/100km) in 2008 – were not an accurate representation of what could be achieved in the real world. Peters claimed she could do no better than 28mpg (8.4L/100km) in standard driving conditions.

But superior court judge Dudley W. Grey II ruled on Tuesday that Honda did not overestimate the performance of its Civic Hybrid and was not misleading in its advertising of the car.

Chief among Honda’s arguments was that the government’s estimated economy ratings are intended as a basis for comparison between cars, and do not take into account many other factors that affect economy such as vehicle speed, driving smoothness, and traffic and weather conditions.

Honda also pointed to the government’s fueleconomy.gov website, where drivers who have uploaded their real-world fuel consumption have averaged 44.8mpg (5.3L/100km) in the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid.

Additionally, a technician drove another identical model using “self-described normal driving procedures” and achieved a range close to 4.7L/100km.

Judge Grey ruled slogans like “sipping fuel”, “amazingly little fuel” and “saves plenty of money on fuel” used in Honda’s advertising campaigns were “non-actionable sales puffery … not specific promises of anything”.

The court decision is now final as California’s small claims court rules do not allow for further appeals.

The case had no repercussions for Honda Civic Hybrid vehicles sold in Australia, as the US-spec model was different to the car sold here.




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