Civic Hybrid Owner Sues Honda Over Mileage Claims

By: Anthony Fontanelle

John True decided to stop driving his Mercedes-Benz E320 last year in favor of a Honda Civic Hybrid. The decision was an effort to cut gas expenses at the time when petrol is priced at $3 per gallon.

Impressed by the Honda Civic Hybrid's advertised mileage, which is 49 miles per gallon in the city and 51 mpg on the highway, True, an Ontario, Calif. professional jazz pianist, purchased the vehicle. But after 6,000 miles of driving, True said he averaged 32 mpg in mixed city and highway driving. So in March, he filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif., challenging the mileage claim of the Japanese automaker. By far, the suit is the first legal challenge of hybrid mileage claims.

True's disappointment with the actual mileage of his hybrid versus the advertised figures reflects that of other purchasers, many of whom voice their grievances on online message boards. Additionally, Consumer Reports and other independent tests firms have backed the criticism with their own findings.

The lawsuit alleges American Honda Motor Co. has misled consumers in its advertisements and on its Web site. The suit stressed that while the Environmental Protection Agency and automobile window stickers say 'mileage will vary,' some Honda advertisements read 'mileage may vary.' That implies that it's possible to get the mileage advertised, said William H. Anderson, a Washington, D.C., attorney for True. The legal battle could not be put to a halt even by the efficient .

The June 4 court filing stated: 'This case does seek relief for tens of thousands of consumers like Mr. True, who purchased the HCH expecting to benefit from its 'remarkable' fuel efficiency, and paid thousands of dollars extra for an HCH that looks identical and performs basically the same as the non-hybrid Honda Civic.'

Honda noted that EPA tests have overstated average fuel economy for all vehicles. In 2006, the EPA announced it was revising its testing procedures to better reflect real world driving conditions, beginning with the 2008 model year.

'I can tell you that the 49/51 figures are EPA numbers, not Honda numbers,' said Honda spokesman Sage Marie. 'Some customers achieve the EPA mpg figures and some don't, as fuel economy performance is a function of conditions, traffic, driving style, load, etc.'

He added the 'vast majority of Civic Hybrid customers are satisfied with the performance since it delivers consistently and substantially higher numbers than comparable non-hybrid vehicles in the real world. It is possible to attain the EPA estimates, and customers do all the time.' Last month, the automaker announced it would stop selling the hybrid version of the Accord later this year.

Anderson said True's legal team will now begin the process of discovery, in an effort to determine how many complaints Honda has received and what the automaker's internal mileage testing shows. 'It's just dishonest to twist the numbers that they know people can't get,' Anderson said. Just because the EPA conducts tests, it doesn't give Honda license to advertise fuel economy numbers that aren't achievable."

"Drivers don't realize that aggressive driving dramatically reduces fuel economy, especially in hybrids. The hybrids are much more sensitive to the way you drive than a conventional car,' noted Andrew Frank, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California-Davis.

In October 2005, Consumer Reports found that the Civic Hybrid averaged 26 mpg in city driving, 46 percent below the EPA estimate. Other hybrids also averaged below estimates. The new EPA tests will decrease city fuel economy for all vehicles by an average of 12 percent and eight percent for highways.

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