Suzuki settles Consumer Reports lawsuit after eight-year legal battle

On July 8, 2004, Suzuki Motor Corporation and Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, agree to a settlement in an eight-year-long lawsuit in which the automaker accused Consumer Reports of damaging its reputation with claims that its Samurai sport utility vehicle (SUV) was prone to rolling over.

In July 1988, a Consumer Reports product review judged the Samurai as unacceptable because of its propensity to tip during sharp turns. (The magazine based this conclusion on the car’s performance in avoidance-maneuver tests.) Suzuki stopped making the Samurai in 1995. The following year, the company filed the lawsuit, accusing Consumer Union of rigging the test and perpetrating consumer fraud. The automaker sought $60 million in compensation and unspecified punitive damages. Suzuki’s case included testimony from a former Consumers Union employee who served for 10 years as a technician in the company’s auto testing group, as well as videotapes and records of automobile testing that date back to 1988. The videos showed, among other things, that the testing personnel had driven the Samurai through the course no fewer than 46 times before getting it to tip up on two wheels on the 47th, a result that was met by laughing and cheering from the group.

A federal judge dismissed Suzuki’s lawsuit without a trial, but in September 2002 an appeals court ruled that a jury should hear the case. In April 2000, Consumers Union had won a jury trial over a lawsuit filed by Isuzu Motor, which claimed that Consumer Reports magazine had rigged a test involving its Trooper SUV in order to make the vehicle tip over. In November 2003, U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Consumers Union appeal in the Suzuki case, and the case was headed for a jury trial in California before the settlement was reached the next July.

No money changed hands in the agreement. Though Consumers Union did not issue an apology–“We stand fully behind our testing and rating of the Samurai,” David Pittle, vice president for technical policy at Consumers Union, said–it made a “clarification,” stating that the magazine’s statement that the Samurai “easily” rolls over during turns may have been “misconstrued or misunderstood.” The agreement also stated that Consumers Reports “never intended to imply that the Samurai easily rolls over in routine driving conditions” and had spoken positively of other Suzuki models such as the Sidekick and the Vitara/XL-7. For its part, Suzuki claimed the settlement as a win for its side: Company officials said it would allow them to concentrate on growing Suzuki’s business in the United States, including building national sales to 200,000 vehicles by 2007, compared with 58,438 in 2003.

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