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Hyundai, Los Angeles Times and Consumer Reports in fuel economy skirmish?

Posted Feb 7th 2013 3:58PM

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Hyundai chart showing Consumer Reports vs. EPA fuel economy data

On Wednesday, Consumer Reports issued a story taking umbrage with the auto industry's move toward smaller, turbocharged engines, noting its own testing revealed that many such powerplants fail to deliver their promised fuel economy numbers. The story covered a variety of domestic and foreign automakers, with Ford and Chevrolet featuring prominently in the discussion. Hyundai was also mentioned for its Sonata Turbo, but the Korean automaker's family sedan came within one observed mile per gallon of its EPA ratings in CR's test, and its normally aspirated 2.4-litre counterpart actually beat its combined EPA ratings, 27 mpg to 26 (8.7 to 9.0 L/100 km).

Good news for Hyundai, right? The automaker was so pleased with its report card that it sent out a small statement to a handful of news outlets including Autoblog, reading in part:

"We at Hyundai believe that Consumer Reports real-world average fuel economy testing results and EPA combined fuel economy results should correlate, and in fact do correlate nicely for some brands. Among all brands, Hyundai does particularly well in this correlation, with no high-volume brand having a better correlation between EPA combined and Consumer Reports real-world fuel economy."

Garden-variety PR stuff to this point, but here's where the issue gets more complicated...


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The chart suggests even Hyundai's pre-adjusted fuel economy results corroborate more closely than most automakers.

Los Angeles Times writer Ronald D. White was contacted unsolicited by Hyundai with the above pitch, and along with it, the automaker included the chart above that it says illustrates the close correlation between CR's observed mpg numbers and the EPA ratings for its products – along with the results from competitors' vehicles. The chart shows corroboration for Hyundai's fuel economy performance both before ("Old") and after ("New") it restated fuel economy estimates for its vehicles back in November after an EPA probe. The chart suggests that even Hyundai's pre-adjusted fuel economy results corroborate more closely than most automakers, with the largest disparity falling to Dodge and Ford, respectively.

Times writer White then took the exact chart above to Consumer Reports to follow up on the story, whereupon the institute denied that they issued it, noting that doing so would have conflicted with the institute's "no commercialization policy" that "precludes manufacturers... from using the materials for their own purposes." White then published a story on Wednesday with the headline "Consumer Reports rejects claim that it did Hyundai mileage study." In the story, White says: "After reviewing its records, Consumer Reports was left scratching its collective head. The magazine hadn't done the analysis Hyundai claimed they had done."

"We claim that we read their magazine and wrote down their numbers."

But here's the thing – Hyundai tells Autoblog it never attempted to represent the chart to the Times as being furnished by CR – the latter was merely a routine document it created using data gleaned from publicly available CR data. According to Erwin Raphael, Hyundai's Director of Engineering and Quality, "Keep in mind that this [chart] was internal, within my team, to find out directionally how we line up with others in the industry." It was made "using public domain Consumer Reports data – it can be easily replicated, even though it's very tedious."

Raphael says he compiled the chart in question and notes that it's one of many pieces of analysis of third-party data that he tracks for the company, along with tracking information from industry analysts like J.D. Power and Edmunds. Hyundai PR manager Jim Trainor, who gave the chart in question to the Times, put it more bluntly: "I never claimed they did anything – we claim that we read their magazine and wrote down their numbers." Both the newspaper and Consumer Reports have confirmed to Autoblog that the chart shown above is exactly what they were presented with, so the issue would appear to boil down to how one reads what it says.

So, is all of this much ado about nothing, or is there something the matter here? Have your say in Comments.

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