Mitsubishi cleared of breaking law in gas-guzzling case

After a four-year court battle, Mitsubishi Motors has been cleared of breaking consumer law over claims about the fuel consumption of its vehicles.

The High Court in Melbourne unanimously approved the automaker's appeal against claims of misleading conduct on Wednesday and dismissed a finding that Mitsubishi should refund the purchase price of a ute that consumed more fuel than indicated on its sticker.

Australian car dealerships welcomed the finding, which they said would give businesses confidence to continue selling new cars without legal ramifications.

Mitsubishi Triton ute
Car dealerships say the High Court decision in Mitsubishi's favour is a victory for common sense.

The court battle began in 2019 when Melbourne man Zelko Begovic took Mitsubishi to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) over his purchase of a Mitsubishi MQ Triton ute in 2017.

He claimed the vehicle used more fuel than indicated on its label and presented independent test results showing it used 26 per cent more fuel than claimed, and 36 per cent more fuel in "extra urban" conditions. 

The VCAT found Mitsubishi's claims were misleading or deceptive, in breach of Australian Consumer Law, and ordered the dealership to refund its $39,500 purchase price.

But Mitsubishi appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court of Victoria and the High Court, arguing it had been penalised for breaking Australian Consumer Law even though another law required the company to show the result of fuel consumption tests. 

"In circumstances where the appellants were bound, respectively, to apply and to maintain the fuel consumption label on the respondent's vehicle ... the appellants did not, by that conduct, breach... Australian Consumer Law," the judgement said.

The High Court allowed Mitsubishi's appeal and dismissed the VCAT application but ordered the car maker to pay the respondent's appeal costs.

The Australian Automotive Dealer Association welcomed the High Court decision on Wednesday, with chief executive James Voortman saying the judgment would give dealerships greater certainty when selling new cars.

"This is a victory for common sense which will allow Australian dealers and manufacturers to continue to serve the needs of their customers without fear of inadvertently breaching the law," he said. 

"This decision is excellent news for Australia's more than 3000 franchised new car dealers."

The Motor Vehicle Standards Act of 1989 requires car makers to test the fuel consumption of vehicles they sell in Australia and affix a label with the results to the windscreen of new vehicles. 

The labels feature an estimate of fuel consumption for every 100 kilometres as well as its carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre. 

The accuracy of those tests has recently come under scrutiny, however, as the federal government launched a $14 million Real-World Testing Program, conducted by the Australian Automobile Association, to probe the accuracy of car fuel consumption claims.

Early results released last month showed more than half of nine cars tested used more fuel than lab tests indicated. 

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