Claimed fuel figures just don’t add up
Car manufacturers advised to take due care to properly qualify their advertised consumption figures
DUE to rising fuel costs, the need to cut carbon footprints and reduce our dependence on oilrich nations fuel consumption is generally a key determining factor for consumers when purchasing a vehicle.
But will your vehicle ever achieve its advertised fuel consumption? Probably not.
In SA, there is a standardised system for the testing and labelling of fuel consumption and emissions of vehicles. This system, which is based on a similar system used in Europe, allows consumers to compare the fuel consumption and emissions of different models which have all been put through the same standardised tests.
The detailed procedure for conducting these tests is the subject of a South African National Standard (SANS 20101: 2006) and involves the mounting of the vehicle on a rolling road dynamometer in a chamber under controlled atmospheric conditions.
Fuel consumption is measured as the vehicle is driven through a standard cycle of set accelerations and stops. Figures are obtained from these tests for an “urban cycle”, with simulated vehicle stops, idling and starts reaching a maximum speed of 5km/h; an “extra urban cycle”, in which a maximum speed of 120km/h is reached; and a “combined cycle”, which is a combination of the two.
However, in reality, fuel consumption may vary based on individual driving style, vehicle loading, tyre pressure, air-conditioning, poor maintenance or climatic and traffic conditions and it is unlikely that a consumer will consistently achieve the advertised fuel consumption statistics obtained through standardised laboratory testing.
In a recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) in the matter of GMSA/J H Wright/2014 — 572F (April 25 2014), the ASA highlighted the importance of drawing to consumers’ attention the discrepancy between figures obtained through these standardised laboratory tests and those which could be achieved in real world conditions.
In this matter, a consumer complained that the advertised fuel consumption figures for a vehicle he had purchased could not be achieved and, in fact, there was a 40% discrepancy between the fuel consumption he achieved and that which was advertised. The vehicle manufacturer responded by pointing out that the testing and labelling of the fuel consumption of its vehicle complied with legislation (ie the standardised testing method); the testing was done for the purpose of comparing the different vehicle models available in SA which are all tested in the same manner; and the fuel consumption estimates should only be used for vehicle comparison and are not intended to be a representation of the actual fuel consumption results the consumer would experience when operating the vehicle.
This is not the first matter where fuel consumption statistics have been the subject of a complaint before the ASA and, taking into account its pre- vious findings on this topic, the ASA considered the advertising and noted that, first, the advertisement for the vehicle did not mention that the consumption figures are laboratory-based, as opposed to real world; and, second, the unqualified claims would reasonably be interpreted as reflective of reallife results.
The ASA was of the view that, while a reasonable person would understand that he or she might not achieve those exact results, the expectation would still be that they are within the vicinity of what can be expected.
In view of the above, the ASA found that the fuel consumption figures were communicated in a misleading manner in contravention of Clause 4.2.1 of the ASA’s Code of Advertising Practice, which provides that advertisers are not permitted to mislead consumers by means of, among others, ambiguity, exaggeration or omission.
The vehicle manufacturer was accordingly ordered to withdraw the fuel consumption figures and to refrain from making unqualified consumption claims again in the future.
Given this, vehicle manufacturers should therefore take due care to properly qualify their advertised fuel consumption figures by, for example, adding an appropriate disclaimer to draw consumers’ attention to the fact that the advertised fuel consumption figures were obtained through standardised tests conducted under laboratory conditions, are to be used for comparison purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the fuel consumption which can be obtained under real world conditions.