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Mazda Caught in Miata Horsepower Fib

Los Angeles - Salesmen may call it puffery, an overstatement of the facts, but consumers call it a lie. In the face of public criticism, Mazda Motor Corp.'s North American unit has offered to buy back all its 2001 Miata sports cars or give owners free factory-scheduled maintenance and $500 because the automaker overstated the engine horsepower.

About 3,500 Miatas are affected, said the Japanese automaker. Ford Motor Co. holds a controlling stake in Mazda. Mazda said it overstated the horsepower of the 2001 model, which began sales in September, by about 8 percent. The engine, which was expected to generate 155 horsepower, wasn't revalidated in final testing, Mazda said.

"We made a mistake, and we apologize," said Charlie Hughes, chief executive of the Irvine, California-based unit, in a statement. The mistake increases the time the Miata takes to go from 0 to 60 miles an hour by less than a half-second, Mazda said.

Mazda added horsepower to the Miata last year as part of an effort to boost its U.S. sales, which have been growing slower than those of other Japanese automakers. In this year's first two months, U.S. sales of the Miata rose 13 percent from the year-earlier period to 2,035. Mazda's total U.S. sales rose 25 percent through February to 41,188.

The automaker will buy back the affected cars for the purchase price or give owners free maintenance for the rest of the warranty and a $500 debit card. Mazda expects most owners will take the maintenance and card, said spokesman Fred Aikins.