Suzuki Alleges Motor Vehicle Testing Fraud by Consumers Union

22 April 1997

New Evidence of Motor Vehicle Testing Fraud by Consumers Union; Suzuki Submits Evidence to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

    WASHINGTON, April 22 -- American Suzuki Motor Corporation
today revealed new evidence that Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer
Reports magazine, may have engaged in consumer fraud.  Among other things, the
evidence shows that, in the course of testing the Suzuki Samurai in 1988, a
Consumers Union executive told testing personnel: "If you don't find someone
to roll this car, I will."
    "This and other powerful evidence proves that Consumers Union deserves
closer scrutiny in matters concerning motor vehicle safety," said George Ball,
general counsel for American Suzuki, which is based in Brea, California.
    For years, Consumers Union has held itself out as an independent tester of
everything from toasters to automobiles.  However, the new evidence, presented
today to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), raises
questions about whether Consumers Union issued false safety warnings about
products in order to get more publicity for itself and for its magazine,
Consumer Reports.
    Accordingly, Suzuki has provided this evidence to the NHTSA for
consideration in connection with the agency's ongoing review of motor vehicle
rollover issues, and has asked the agency to commence a separate investigation
into the truthfulness of CU's statements in that proceeding.
    The charges against Consumers Union are supported by dramatic testimony
from a former Consumers Union employee who served for ten years as a
technician in Consumers Union's auto testing group.  The charges are also
supported by newly released videotapes and records of automobile testing by
Consumers Union that date back to 1988.
    In a 1988 videotape, for example, Consumers Union testing personnel can be
heard laughing and cheering when, after driving the Suzuki Samurai through an
obstacle course 46 times, they were finally able to make it tip up on two
wheels on the 47th try.
    Moreover, Consumers Union's test logs reveal that, after 37 runs, one
driver rated the Samurai the best of the vehicles being tested and gave it the
highest possible ratings.
    He reported that the Samurai "responds well and corrects quickly, leans
normally, snaps back in line.  Confidence fairly high, no real problem."  The
second test driver, who was able to drive the Samurai successfully through the
test course at 53 m.p.h. with cumbersome outriggers attached, observed that
the Samurai "never felt like it would tip over."
    However, the newly released videotape reveals that, after this testing was
complete, a Consumers Union executive, who normally does not test drive
vehicles, drove the Samurai through the course again and again until he was
finally able to get it to tip up for the camera.  Consumers Union personnel
can be heard cheering and laughing when the executive, R. David Pittle, was
finally successful at getting the Samurai to tip up.
    The videotape also records that, when Mr. Pittle succeeded in getting a
tip-up, testing personnel quickly ensured that the camera had recorded the
tip-up, and then stopped testing for the day.  Mr. Pittle did not test drive
any of the other vehicles.
    The videotape reveals that Consumers Union personnel then created a new,
more demanding test.  Even on this course, however, it took the test drivers
15 more attempts to get the Samurai to tip up again.  The videotape records a
loud celebratory cheer of "All Right Ricky Baby!" when Consumers Union's
driver, Richard Small, was finally able to get the Samurai to tip up
dramatically for the camera.
    The reason for this excitement has been revealed by Ronald Denison, the CU
employee who was then in charge of filming the testing.  In a sworn affidavit,
Mr. Denison stated that Irwin Landau, who was then editorial director of
Consumers Union, had instructed testing personnel: "If you don't find someone
to roll this car, I will."  Mr. Denison further states that, "from what I
heard and saw during the testing of the Samurai, the objective of the test was
not to simulate normal avoidance driving, but was to flip the Samurai."
    Commenting on this evidence, Ball observed that "these materials conflict
sharply with Consumers Union's public image as an impartial and professional
testing organization."
    Consumers Union went forward anyway and published a story warning that the
Samurai was unsafe.  At the time, the story generated a great deal of
publicity for Consumers Union, and increased sales of its magazine.  In recent
years, moreover, Consumers Union has continued to use the story to market
itself and its products.  All of the publicity had the opposite effect on
Suzuki:  sales plummeted while lawsuits increased dramatically.
    Ball also observed that the new evidence confirms NHTSA's 1988 conclusions
about the Consumers Union accident avoidance maneuver.  In a 1988 ruling,
NHTSA stated that Consumers Union's "test procedures do not have a scientific
basis and cannot be linked to real-world crash avoidance needs or actual
data."
    Ball added: "This is not the kind of impartial testing that the public has
a right to expect."

SOURCE  American Suzuki Motor Corporation




CONTACT: Peter Mirijanian, 202-434-8584, for American Suzuki

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