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Palm Beach Lexus Dealer Sued

February 18, 2000

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ We’ll meet or reduce your payments on a comparable luxury car _ or the Lexus is free, the ad says.

But Lexus of Palm Beach laughed at customers who asked for a $35,000 car at no charge when salesmen failed to deliver on the promise.

Now the Florida Attorney General’s Office says the dealer owes five customers a new ride _ at no charge.

``They should honor their own offer,″ Assistant Attorney General Bob Buchner said Thursday after his office filed a lawsuit against the Lexus dealer, claiming deceptive and unfair trade practices.

``If they hadn’t advertised a free Lexus, we wouldn’t ask for it,″ Buchner said.

The car dealer’s lawyer admitted Thursday he couldn’t read the teeny, tiny disclaimer typed at the bottom of a photocopied Lexus ad that ran in South Florida newspapers last June.

``I can’t even read it, either, but on a full page newspaper ad you can read it,″ lawyer Robert Haile said about a sentence at the bottom of the advertisement that claims the amount of down payment and lease terms may vary.

One of the ads in question reads: ``Drive away a new 1999 Lexus for 1/2 price or less.″

Another says: ``Trade in your vehicle for a brand new 1999 Lexus and you’ll pay the same monthly payment or less...or your new 1999 Lexus in free.″

Barbara Sherry of Boynton Beach saw one of the ads and drove it to the dealership in her 1997 Lexus ES300. She hoped to trade the second Lexus she’s owned for a third, an RX300, the car manufacturer’s sports utility vehicle.

But the 52-year-old art gallery owner was told her lease payments would increase from $469 a month to $569 and the lease term would rise from 36 to 48 months. Plus, she’d have to cough up a $4,000 down payment, she said.

When Sherry pointed out the ad to the sales manager, he told her he didn’t know anything about it and snickered at her suggestion the dealership owed her a new car, she said.

``He just laughed and said to me, ``It will never be free,′ ″ she said.

Haile said Sherry’s car wasn’t comparable to the new sport utility vehicle and she should have read the disclaimer. While the type at the bottom of the ad is small, it does release the dealership from any obligation, Haile maintained.

Besides, the ad wasn’t misleading, Haile said.

The attorney general’s office filed the lawsuit after five consumers complained of identical treatment. Buchner said he suspects more will come forward.

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