Honda Civic Hybrid Lawsuit: Customers Get Rebate or Cash-Back Option


Honda is now offering a $500 rebate to customers who purchased a Civic Hybrid between 2003-2007 but aren’t happy with the gas mileage they are getting. This offer, which must be used towards the purchase of a new Honda (alternatively you can take $100 cash) is the result of a lawsuit by musician and disgruntled Honda Civic Hybrid (HCH) owner John True. True said he was only able to achieve 32 miles per gallon on his vehicle.

I know this story well as I am a former HCH owner, having purchased one in 2003. I similarly didn’t achieve the EPA’s estimated MPG that is required by law to be the only mileage quoted in advertising by the car companies.

I was the first to write about this issue for Wired News (see the details here and here), and in my reporting discovered that all hybrid vehicles were receiving generous MPG ratings because the EPA’s decades-old testing procedure spent an unrealistic amount of time “stopped,” at which point the hybrid-electric vehicles’ engines turned off.

Realizing the error of its ways, the EPA at long last updated its testing methodology in 2007, which brought down the MPG estimates of hybrids much more than ICEs. The EPA even established revised fuel economy estimates for existing vehicles, which were available online to Mr. True around the same time he filed suit.

In addition to the flawed EPA test and a break in period (hybrids tend to get better mileage after few thousand miles of driving), driving habits play a major role in the actual-versus-estimated MPGs. “Your mileage may vary” is not just a cliche, which some folks who drive aggressively or in constant traffic fail to realize.

History could be repeating itself with the advent of the plug-in hybrid, and automotive OEMs should learn the lesson from this lawsuit. Honda was following the law in advertising using EPA estimates, yet the company is curiously willing to potentially pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in a settlement. (Several happy HCH owners have posted online that they won’t take the money and are objecting to the settlement offer.)

Offering $500 towards the purchase of a new Honda vehicle is an oft relied upon tool for auto makers that could generate some additional business for the company. Even though Honda denies any wrongdoing, offering money under the auspices of a court settlement sends a negative signal that hybrids aren’t all they are cracked up to be to prospective buyers who may not be familiar with the history of the EPA’s testing procedures.

General Motors recently claimed that the upcoming Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid achieved 230 miles per gallon based on internal tests, but then the EPA quickly questioned that figure.

Plug-in hybrids and EVs have the potential to reshape the transportation market, but auto makers have to carefully manage expectations. The new vehicles’ cost effectiveness will come into question, and the performance characteristics and driving experience of electrified vehicles require a steep learning curve. The last thing the troubled U.S. auto industry needs is a new round of lawsuits from customers who don’t understand their vehicles.

Article appearing courtesy of Matter Network

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  • Tom Saidak

    The engines stops on a Civic Hybrid? When I was choosing a hybrid in June of 2008, all the articles I could find reported that the Civic did NOT turn off it’s gasoline engine/generator. Was that a change or what? From my reading, the Toyota was the only one that did completely turn off the gasoline engine.


    • Chris G.

      I have a Honda Civic Hybird and it has always shut off when stopped. Also, I was getting very good gas mileage (around 38.5 MPG) until I reached 60,000 miles. Now I get around 34 MPG. Which I feel is still better than the gas guzzling 14 MPG cars and trucks.

  • Dynamic Plastics

    While hybrids are a step in the right direction, a good modern small capacity turbodiesel can get equivalent or even superior performance for a fraction of the price. I am looking forward to the newer generation of plug-in hybrids and the further development of battery and ultracapacitor technology.