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Suzuki Lashes Back At Criticism Of Samurai’s Safety

June 10, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A consumer group’s accusation that the sporty Suzuki Samurai is prone to roll over was denounced Thursday by the Japanese automaker as ″inaccurate and defamatory.″

Test results announced last week by Consumers Union, the New York publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, unfairly suggest the popular four-wheel drive vehicle is unsafe under normal driving conditions, said Doug Mazza, vice president and general manager of American Suzuki Motor Corp.

″If the magazine had acted responsibly and reviewed the available information it would have been aware that the Samurai has one of the best records on file,″ Mazza said.

Last week the influential consumer organization condemned the Samurai as being so prone to roll over that it cannot be modified to be safe. Consumers Union recommended a recall of the 120,000 or more Samurais sold in America and a refund to owners.

″The Suzuki Samurai has been falsely accused, and it does not have a design error,″ Mazza said. ″We have absolute confidence in its safety record and road-worthiness in the United States.″

The publicity likely will cut sales of the $8,500 car, Mazza said, adding that the company has boosted its advertising budget by $1.5 million a week to counter consumer fears raised by the Consumers Union tests.

The Consumer Reports review has already spurred one class-action lawsuit against American Suzuki in Chicago Circuit Court.

Citing the Consumers Union tests, plaintiffs identified only as Steven and Linda Newmark of Missouri and Lynn Romanek of Illinois seek refunds and unspecified damages. The suit contends Suzuki knew the cars were dangerous but failed to act on the knowledge.

Suzuki’s outside auto engineering consultant, Jon McKibben of Irvine, said it appeared the Consumers Union test driver deliberately turned the Samurai more sharply than other cars in the test.

″I would say the difference is the test driver steered the other vehicles in a manner dramatically different from the way in which the Suzuki Samurai was steered,″ McKibben said, acknowledging that he knew of the critical test only by watching TV news videotape.

The Samurais in the Consumers Union tests may have been made unstable by 300-pound ″outriggers″ bolted to the cars to keep them from rolling over, McKibben said. Similar tests elsewhere use lighter outriggers, he said.

Responding to the accusations made by Suzuki in news conferences in Los Angeles, New York and Detroit, Consumers Union spokesman David Berliner defended the organization’s tests as valid. He said similar vehicles made by competitors passed the tests that caused the Samurai to tip over.

″Our tests simulate a real world situation that any motorist driving at any time might encounter,″ Berliner said. ″We never suggested that the Samurai will turn over every time a driver swerves to avoid an obstacle in the road.

″We said that its design creates enough chance of that happening to the typical driver that it poses an unacceptable risk,″ he said.

There have been 44 reports of Samurais rolling over, involving 53 injuries and 16 deaths, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Suzuki said its study of federal statistics on fatal accidents found that in the last two years, there were three fatal accidents in which a Samurai may have rolled over on a relatively flat surface.

In two of those cases, the drivers had been drinking and none of the three victims wore seat belts, McKibben said.

Government accident statistics and tests conducted by an independent automotive safety consultant showed the Samurai was as safe or safer than other sport-utility vehicles, Mazza said. That industry term refers to four- wheel drive cars and light pick-up trucks.

Consumers Union has filed a petition with the NHTSA seeking rules requiring that sport-utility vehicles be put through road tests for safety, rather than just requiring them to meet design standards.

Samurai is considering legal action against Consumers Union, Mazza said. He suggested the consumer group made its accusations as part of a calculated campaign to persuade the government to adopt stricter rollover standards.

″For years the Consumers Union has been pressing the government for an unrealistic rollover standard,″ Mazza said. ″What better way than pressing the smallest Japanese automaker with the No. 1 selling sport-utility vehicle?″

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