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U.S. states warn automakers on "deceptive" SUV ads

DETROIT, April 23, 2003; Reuters reorted that the attorneys general of 40 U.S. states and territories on Wednesday sent a letter to 16 major automakers warning that some advertisements featuring sport utility vehicles deceive consumers into believing that SUVs handle like cars.

The letter said that auto industry ads could be considered "unfair and deceptive trade practices," which would be subject to future civil lawsuits.

The auto industry has "blurred" the distinction between cars and SUVs in advertisements "which now trumpet the 'car-like' attributes of SUVs," the letter said, citing federal safety statistics which show that SUVs are three times more likely to roll over than cars.

Sales of SUVs have been growing steadily, fueling the profits of the auto industry, particularly the U.S. automakers, despite a growing number of attacks about the safety and environmental impact of the popular vehicles.

The warning comes as U.S. safety regulators on Wednesday released road fatality rates for last year, which showed that the number of deaths resulting from rollovers of SUVs and pickup trucks rose by 4.9 percent to 10,626, or about a quarter of all road fatalities.

The letter said the auto industry deceptively touts the cargo capacity of SUVs without mentioning safe weight limitations of the vehicles. Overloading is a significant factor in the SUV rollover accidents, the letter said.

Some ads also exaggerate the handling of SUVs by showing them perform high-speed maneuvers, the letter said.

A spokesman for General Motors Corp. took exception to the accusations.

"The bottom line is we do not depict unsafe driving conditions in any of our advertising," GM spokesman Jay Cooney told Reuters. "A Silverado pickup is not a Corvette and our ads simply don't depict a pickup truck behaving like a sports car."

The states said that many of the issues were addressed when all 50 states settled their deceptive advertising investigation of Ford Motor Co. and its SUV ads. After a two-and-a-half year investigation, Ford agreed to pay $51.5 million and change their advertising practices.