Fiat and VW face court over fuel economy claims

Issue relates to fuel consumption figures for specific VW Golf and Fiat Panda models

Altroconsumo, an Italian consumer advocacy group, is taking Volkswagen and Fiat to court, alleging misleading fuel economy claims, and it's encouraging motorists to join it in a class action agains the two companies.

The issue surrounds the Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI diesel and the Fiat Panda 1.2 petrol, both of which have had their fuel consumption figures artificially inflated to a point where owners could not hope to achieve them in real world driving, according to the consumer group.

"Consumers buying supposedly efficient cars are misled too often," Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, of which Altroconsumo is a member, said in a statement. "The deplorable side-effect of this practice is that drivers might disregard fuel consumption information altogether."

According to Altroconsumo, the two models are between 18 per cent and 50 per cent less fuel efficient than their manufacturers claim, and it is saying that Fiat and VW should pay owners of these cars €247 (for the Fiat) and €509 (for the Golf) to compensate them for the difference between real-world and official fuel consumption over a notional 15,000km. The papers will be filed with the Italian legal authorities within weeks.


If successful, the suit could open the floodgates for a tide of similar claims. For years now, it has been widely known that car makers specifically tweak, tune and alter their vehicles for the official EU fuel consumption tests - actions that are technically allowable under the current system, but which the EU is currently preparing legislation to abolish. While car makers in general, and Fiat and VW in this specific case, will counter that as all makers are tacitly allowed to do this, there dis a precedent in the US for such claims.

When the American Environmental Protection Agency found that both Hyundai and Ford had over-inflated fuel consumption figures for two of their models, both car makers eventually had to compensate owners for the extra cost of their fuel bills. Honda, Kia and General Motors were also hit with similar claims and, as an example, Hyundai had to spend USD$225-million to settle the actions.

"Fuel efficiency standards for vehicles are Europe's single most effective policy to drive down CO2 emissions, but are being undermined by an obsolete test,' said Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at lobby group Transport & Environment. 'The test procedures are a Swiss cheese, full of loopholes, that carmakers exploit to exaggerate improvements in fuel economy and emissions."

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring