By Kim Yon-se and Lee Ji-yoon
SOUTH KOREA - Toyota Motor Corp.'s Korean unit is grappling to block a possible class action suit by a group of consumers arguing that the automaker fabricated the fuel-efficiency figures of some hybrid cars.
This comes as some local owners of eco-friendly vehicles from Toyota and Lexus, the premium brand of the Japanese company, are inviting similar complaints on a website for a joint litigation.
The angry consumers claim that the "high fuel-efficiency" advertized by the company is exaggerated.
An individual, who identified himself as a Lexus customer and is reportedly taking the initiative in preparing for the class action suit, said that his "Lexus CT200h recorded a real mileage of 12 to 13 kilometers per liter though the company claimed a figure of 25.4 kilometers per liter."
He posted a photo on the Internet, which claimed to show the real fuel efficiency on a gas-mileage indicator beside the speedometer.
Meanwhile, some consumers are arguing that the Prius, an eco-friendly sedan from Toyota, has a critical defect in its braking system.
They are allegedly seeking to benchmark an earlier suit against the company, filed by a Korean driver, in 2010. Through a law firm, the driver filed a claim worth 130 million won (S$143,000).
The suit is under way, and the defendants include Nagoya-based Toyota Motor Corp. headquarters, Toyota Motor Korea Co. and local dealers.
A Toyota Motor Korea spokesperson said the company "is continuously communicating with consumers with complaints in terms of customer service."
But he downplayed the allegation that Toyota or Lexus rigged the figures for fuel-efficiency.
He said that gas mileage was affected by an individual's driving style, adding that the company does not the class action suit has much chance of success.
An official of a Korean automaker also said the chances of the plaintiff's winning the case were low. He stressed that mileage is affected by street conditions as well as driving style.
The group of Toyota and Lexus consumers said they are considering filing a suit in early September.
They said the damage claim would be equivalent to 20 per cent of the vehicle price.
"Apart from the issue of fuel efficiency, a variety of defects would be included in the suit," a consumer said.
Two years ago, Toyota Motor was sued in Canada in a class-action case claiming defects in the braking system of its Prius and Lexus hybrid vehicles.
Merchant Law Group said it filed a claim in Victoria, British Columbia, against the automaker on behalf of Canadian owners of 2010 Toyota Prius and Lexus HS250h hybrids. The lawsuit, which seeks reimbursement of purchase prices or payment equal to a loss in resale value, claims the vehicles' brake systems are defective because they shut off brake power to save energy.
The Japanese firm has faced more than 30 class action lawsuits in the United States and Canada connected to multiple recalls over sudden acceleration of its vehicles.