The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that Hyundai and Kia misstated fuel economy stats on 13 models from the 2011, 2012, and 2013 model years, including on best-sellers such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Sorento.
As a result the Korean automakers have been ordered to amend window stickers on vehicles in showrooms and to pay damages to 900,000 owners across the U.S.
The problem was raised a year ago, when Consumer Watchdog began badgering the EPA to conduct tests on the 2011 Hyundai Elantra.
Hyundai claimed that the sedan achieves 29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 33 mpg. However, consumers and critics have complained that under real-world conditions, their best results fell in the mid-20s. Similar complaints were lodged against the 2012 Elantra.
And so, the EPA conducted an audit. The findings were not good.
In fact, the findings were poor enough that the Agency expanded its audit to other 2011, 2012, and 2013 model-year vehicles manufactured by Hyundai and its sibling, Kia. As it turns out, the Elantra's fuel economy wasn't the only figure that was overstated.
In all, discrepancies were found on 13 models, including the Hyundai Accent, Azera, Elantra, Genesis, Santa Fe, Sonata Hybrid, Tucson, and Veloster. The Kia Optima Hybrid, Rio, Sorento, Soul, and Sportage were also sold with incorrect fuel economy stats.
According to the Associated Press, the EPA has ordered both Hyundai and Kia to amend window stickers on roughly 30 percent of the vehicles currently in showrooms. Most will change by only a mile or two. Some, like the popular Kia Soul, will lose as many six miles per gallon.
What's more, Hyundai and Kia are likely to pay some sort of restitution to over 900,000 owners who've already purchased 2011, 2012, and 2013 models. So far, the plan is to contact owners, calculate their mileage to date, and determine how much more they've spent on fuel than if the window stickers had been correct.
Kia's Michael Sprague gave the example of a vehicle with a 1-mpg difference that had 15,000 miles on the odometer. The owner of that vehicle would receive compensation in the amount of $88.03, which includes a 15-percent premium for the inconvenience.
Such payments will be made every year via debit card, for as long as the owner drives the vehicle. Multiply that $88.03 figure by 900,000, and you get a figure of $79,227,000, which is probably at the low end. That's a sizable chunk to take out of Hyundai/Kia profits.
The EPA noted that this is the first time it has uncovered such a vast number of discrepancies in fuel economy. In fact, this sort of error has only been found twice in the past 12 years -- and even then, the investigations affected just one vehicle at a time. The EPA also said that its investigation is ongoing and refused to indicate whether Hyundai and Kia might be fined or slapped with criminal charges.
Hyundai and Kia have apologized profusely for the fiasco. John Krafcik, Hyundai's CEO of American operations, insists that the problem was administrative and procedural in error, and was not intentional. Sung Hwan Cho, president of Hyundai's U.S. technical center in Michigan, said the same, noting that the mixup stemmed from the complex nature of EPA tests, which happened as the two car companies were tweaking vehicles to boost fuel economy.
For customers, past and present
If you're shopping for a new car and have your eye on a Hyundai or Kia, Krafcik says that you can breathe easy: window stickers on showroom vehicles have been amended to reflect accurate fuel economy stats.