Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Wednesday, April 23, 2003.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Attorneys General Caution Automakers
on SUV Advertising

DES MOINES. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said today that he and many other state attorneys general sent a warning letter today to sixteen auto manufacturers advising them that advertising for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) "has begun to 'blur the line' between SUVs and cars," with a result that consumers could be "deceived into believing that SUVs have car-like handling and performance capabilities when in fact they are more truck-like."

"This is crucial because it has been demonstrated that SUVs are three times more likely to roll over than passenger cars," Miller said.

Miller said the letter is a follow-up to last December's settlement with Ford Motor Company regarding Ford advertisements of sport utility vehicles. The letter urges other manufacturers to conform their SUV advertising to the requirements that govern Ford's advertisements.

"We are notifying manufacturers that certain advertising practices could be considered by the states as unfair and deceptive trade practices, and could subject manufacturers to civil actions," Miller said.

The letter called specific attention to the following areas:

  • Advertising that blurs the distinction between SUVs and passenger cars. Most SUVs are built on truck frames and are more susceptible to rollover than passenger cars.
  • Advertisements featuring "abundant cargo capacity" that fail to warn consumers that weight and distribution are more critical to safe loading than volume -- for example, ads depicting such full cargo loads that the weight and distribution likely exceed safe limits.
  • So-called "limit ads" that depict SUVs engaged in rugged, high-speed maneuvers that are possible, but may be dangerous and are not recommended.

The letter was prepared by Miller and seven other state attorneys general who comprised the Executive Committee that led negotiations in the Ford settlement.

The Ford investigation stemmed from a rash of Ford Explorer rollovers following tire tread separations. After a two and one-half year investigation, Ford Motor Company agreed to pay $51.5 million dollars and change its advertising practices. Out of that settlement, $30 million will be devoted to an SUV Safety Awareness campaign tentatively scheduled to begin this fall.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of 40 States and Territories:

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The letter went to BMW of North America LLC., DaimlerChrysler Corporation, General Motors Corporation, American Honda Motor Company, Hyundai Motor America, American Isuzu Motor Inc., Kia Motors America Inc., Mitsubishi Motors North America, Nissan Motors North America, Porsche Cars North American Inc., Subaru of America Inc., American Suzuki Motor Corp., Toyota Motor North America Inc., Volkswagen of America Inc., Mazda North America, and Mercedes Benz, United States of America.

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SUV Advertising Letter

[Following is the text of the letter sent to vehicle manufacturers by state attorneys general.]

On behalf of forty (40) States and Territories (see exhibit A) hereinafter "the States and Territories", we write to express our concern with the advertising of sport utility vehicles (hereinafter "SUVs"). This concern was a major focus of our multi-state investigation of Ford Motor Company, which was recently settled.

To resolve the issues being investigated, Ford and the States and Territories entered into a settlement agreement that prohibits certain representations in the advertising of SUVs. We direct your attention to the Agreed Final Judgment filed in Florida, the terms of which are mirrored in judgments filed in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The issues that concern us are not new. In April 1989, the Attorneys General of seven states addressed letters to the major automobile manufacturers in the United States, notifying the manufacturers of the States and Territories' settlement with American Suzuki Motor Corporation. A copy of the letter is attached for your reference (see exhibit B). As you see, the Attorneys General cited the finding by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that "multi purpose vehicles" (a designation previously used for SUVs) are more likely than passenger cars to roll over, and explained that any blurring of the distinction between multi purpose vehicles and passenger cars would be considered deceptive. Unfortunately, in recent years, many manufacturers have again seriously blurred this distinction in advertisements like those which now trumpet the "car-like" attributes of SUVs.

In addition to this general concern, the States and Territories have two specific concerns with current advertising. First, we believe it is deceptive to state or imply in advertising that SUVs have abundant cargo capacity without informing the consumer that cargo capacity is limited not only by volume, but more importantly for the safety of the passengers, by weight and distribution. As you know, overloading is a significant factor in the cause of numerous single vehicle SUV rollover incidents resulting in death and/or serious injury.

Second, we are concerned with any advertising that purports to convey the emergency handling capabilities of SUVs. Suggesting or implying that any SUV can safely execute emergency avoidance maneuvers at high speeds is both misleading and dangerous.

Statistical data developed by the NHTSA has demonstrated that SUVs are three times more likely to roll over than passenger cars.

The States and Territories by this letter wish to make all SUV manufacturers aware that it may be a deceptive or unfair act or practice to advertise SUVs in a manner that:

    • blurs the handling distinction between SUVs and passenger cars,
    • touts cargo volume without explaining the safe weight limitations of SUVs, and/or
    • exaggerates high speed abrupt maneuver/emergency avoidance handling capabilities.

Consumers are entitled to full, fair, and honest information in order to make informed decisions when considering whether to purchase SUVs. We believe that the failure to disclose this material information, or to wait until after the sale to disclose it, constitutes a deceptive and unfair trade practice under most state consumer laws.

The States and Territories suggest that you review your SUV advertising in light of the settlement agreement with Ford Motor Company and urge that you comply with the spirit and the terms of the Ford agreement. In particular, as the agreement envisions, the States and Territories do not sanction "limit advertising" that, in its totality, depicts the unsafe operation of an SUV. A copy of the Florida Agreed Final Judgment has been attached for your convenience (see exhibit C). In particular, we direct your attention to Sections 5 and 6 (Injunctive Relief) and 11 (Undertakings and Acknowledgments) of the Agreed Final Judgment.

We will, of course, continue to monitor and evaluate the advertising of SUVs closely as each of the States and Territories is committed to the enforcement of its advertising laws and the health and safety of consumers.

Your serious attention in this matter is advised.

Sincerely,

[The letter was signed by the attorneys general of 40 states and territories, listed below.]

Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

[The letter went to the vehicle manufacturers listed below.]

BMW of North America LLC., DaimlerChrysler Corporation, General Motors Corporation, American Honda Motor Company, Hyundai Motor America, American Isuzu Motor Inc., Kia Motors America Inc., Mitsubishi Motors North America, Nissan Motors North America, Porsche Cars North American Inc., Subaru of America Inc., American Suzuki Motor Corp., Toyota Motor North America Inc., Volkswagen of America Inc., Mazda North America, and Mercedes Benz, United States of America.

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