But the responsibility for the discrepancy is falling on MMAL and one of its dealers, which the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) – and now the Supreme Court of Victoria – are saying have deceived and misled a consumer when all they did was obey fuel labelling laws emanating from Canberra.
The case was sparked by a Mitsubishi Triton customer who in 2019 took MMAL to VCAT over a major discrepancy in fuel consumption data. The tribunal heard that the Triton was using 27 per cent more fuel than the fuel label stated.
The issue shows dealers, through their dealer councils, will have to work closely with OEMs to ensure they are shielded from any potential liability, the Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA) said.
The AADA said it will now take the matter to the federal government.
AADA CEO James Voortman said: “To be told you are misleading the consumer by adhering to the strict letter of the law is a very difficult pill to swallow.”
“You have to feel for both the dealer and the manufacturer. The fuel consumption sticker and the laboratory test informing it is a government requirement for all new cars being sold in Australia.
“The dealer has no input whatsoever into the contents of the information on the sticker.”
Mr Vootrman told GoAutoNews Premium that the court action “sets a very dangerous precedent”.
“Many people who do not achieve the displayed fuel consumption in the real world can draw on this ruling,” he said.
“However, it is well known that the laboratory test is a standardised test which allows consumers to compare apples with apples when they are buying a new car.
“It is important to note that the lab test does not resemble real-world driving and that is because everybody has a different style of driving and every driver experiences different conditions – this fact is made very clear on the fuel consumption label.”
Mr Voortman said the AADA would now “be reaching out to the federal government on this issue”.
“It has established the vehicle standards rules with which the OEMs have to comply,” he said.
“To be complying with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act only to breach the Consumer Law in the process is an unworkable, unfair situation, particularly when dealers get unwittingly caught up in the process.”
MMAL was taken to VCAT by Zelko Begovic, one of its customers, in 2019. It appealed the VCAT decision to the Supreme Court.
Mr Begovic showed that fuel consumption figures on the windscreen of the 2016 model were listed as lower than his previous 2008 Triton. However, he showed the court that in real life the new vehicle was less economical, leading the court to determine the labelling as “misleading and deceptive”.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) says federal regulators have, since 2015, been aware the laboratory tests used to enforce environmental controls are providing misleading information.
AAA managing director, Michael Bradley, said: “Volkswagen’s cheating of laboratory tests has seen jurisdictions around the world improve their oversight of car-maker performance and the information being provided to consumers.
“The European Union has incorporated real-world testing into its vehicle regulation framework, but in Australia, consumers are still only told how new cars perform in the laboratory.
“AAA research shows Australian cars use up to 59 per cent more fuel in the real world than advertised, and their noxious emissions are up to 625 per cent over Australian regulatory limits,” Mr Bradley said.
Like similar studies undertaken in other countries, the AAA’s research found that as emissions regulations around the world become more stringent, car-makers are getting better at engineering vehicles that comply with regulations only in the laboratory.
Mr Bradley said: “The gap between laboratory and real-world performance has been widening every year, and consumers are each year receiving poorer information regarding fuel consumption and environmental performance.”
Like the AADA, the AAA is calling on the Federal Government to change the rules. The AAA wants Australia to copy the European Union’s real-world test procedure and introduce an Australian real-world test program that can provide consumers and fleet buyers more valuable information on a vehicle’s noxious emissions, greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said: “We will review the judgement and work with our members regarding future steps that might be necessary.
“At this stage, it is important to note that the Australian Design Rules mandated by the federal government – and specifically ADR81 – detail the procedures for testing and these results are used by all vehicle manufacturers as the basis for reporting fuel economy.
“These tests are conducted under laboratory conditions and provide a consistent form of measure which allows customers to make informed decisions regarding fuel consumption.
“Real-world experience will most likely differ subject to the different driving and traffic conditions through to how an individual drives the vehicle.
“We will continue to support our members who follow their legal obligations as set by the government regarding testing and reporting.”
By Neil Dowling