Consumers Union Responds to Suzuki Allegations of Testing Fraud

22 April 1997

Consumers Union Response to Suzuki News Conference

    YONKERS, N.Y., April 22 -- First it was the cigarette makers,
now it's an automobile manufacturer.  Different industries, same desperate
tactics.  Throw up a smoke screen, hurl ludicrous charges, and falsely claim
(despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that their product is
safe -- all to avoid liability for defective and dangerous products.
    "There is absolutely no chance that our tests of the Suzuki Samurai were
anything but completely objective, accurate and unbiased" said Dr. R. David
Pittle, Technical Director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports
magazine.  "Back in October 1996, CU provided the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) with copies of all of the videotapes and all of
the documents related to the Samurai testing.  There is absolutely nothing in
that material that is either new or that would support Suzuki's incredible
charges.
    Dr. Pittle's comments were prompted by a news conference held earlier in
the day in Washington by the Suzuki Motor Corporation during which the auto
manufacturer falsely accused Consumers Union of fabricating its tests of the
1988 Suzuki Samurai.
    "Suzuki has now dredged up, nine years after the fact, a disgruntled
ex-employee who was discharged for cause and incompetence," Dr. Pittle said.
"Each and every driver who participated in the test and was named in the
affidavit, as well as Consumer Reports' former editor, totally contradicted
these charges, which have been fabricated for very obvious reasons.
    "We welcome and invite NHTSA to evaluate our honesty and integrity.
Courts have done so and found unanimously that our methodology was beyond
reproach.  For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York -- one of the
nation's most highly respected courts -- has said that our work 'exemplifies
the very highest order of responsible journalism.'"
    On the other hand, Dr. Pittle said, in a decision that the U.S. Supreme
Court refused to review, a Federal Court of Appeals stated that Suzuki and its
attorneys "engaged in an unrelenting campaign to obfuscate the truth."
    "The truth that was revealed despite Suzuki's cover-up is that Suzuki
knew -- prior to first selling the car in the U.S. -- that the vehicle had a
'rollover problem' and that General Motors refused to sell the car because its
evaluation demonstrated the danger of rollover," Dr. Pittle said.

    Dr. Pittle also referred to:
    -- Internal documents from Suzuki that prove that Suzuki knew about the
rollover problem, yet marketed the car in this country.
    -- Tests that demonstrated the same problem, conducted for NBC by its own
independent experts and broadcast -- before CU began its tests -- as a three-
part series.
    -- A Suzuki internal memo dated July 14, 1985 (a full three years before
CU conducted its tests) in which an executive wrote: "It is imperative that we
develop a crisis plan that will primarily deal with the 'roll' factor.
Because of the narrow wheel base, similar to Jeep, the car is bound to turn
over.  That's one reason they have reinforced the interior with a roll cage."
Further in the document, the words (original in all capital letters): "IT IS
IMPERATIVE THAT WHENEVER THE CAR IS PHOTOGRAPHED, THAT ALL FOUR WHEELS BE ON
THE GROUND!!!"
    -- Memos showing that -- two years before that, in 1983 -- General Motors
refused to distribute the Samurai in the United States because of the
vehicle's rollover problems.
    -- Suzuki has had more than 170 lawsuits filed against it for deaths and
serious injuries involving rollover accidents.  It has settled more than
100 of the suits for many millions of dollars, but has -- as a condition of
payment -- forced victims to sign gag orders that restrict them from
disclosing the amount of their settlement.
    -- At least 147 deaths have been directly linked to Samurai rollover
accidents.
    -- An estimated 7,000 injuries have been directly linked to Samurai
rollover accidents.

    "It's no coincidence that this all-out attack on CU, made in desperation,
is coming just as NHTSA is preparing to hand down its decision on our
petitions for a consumer information disclosure requirement on Sport Utility
Vehicles," Dr. Pittle said.  "If they can't put truth before the agency, then
Suzuki seems to think that distortion -- and even lies -- is the next best
approach."
    Referring to the charges hurled at today's news conference, Dr. Pittle
said the former employee, Ronald Denison, an automotive lab technician, was
fired in 1989 for his performance failures that were first documented well
before the Samurai tests began.
    "This is no whistleblower," Dr. Pittle added.  "This is a classic case of
a disgruntled employee whose performance was criticized for incompetence
before and after 1988.  For nine years, he remained silent.  That speaks
volumes as to his veracity."

SOURCE  Consumers Union




CONTACT: Office of Public Information of Consumers Union:
914-378-2430, 914-378-2436, 914-378-2433 or 914-378-2431
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