Holden has been forced to offer full refunds to hundreds of customers who bought discounted Commodores and other cars after the consumer watchdog found it guilty of misleading advertising.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said yesterday it had accepted court-enforceable undertakings offered by GM Holden Ltd in relation to its recent high-profile "You Pay What We Pay" advertising campaign.
The refund offer applies to consumers who bought the vehicles between October 21 and November 9 last year, when they were first subject to an advertised special discount.
The ACCC said Holden's promotion of its best-selling range had run from October to December 2005 among much hype that, "For the first time ever, all Australians can enjoy the financial benefit of Holden Employee Pricing".
But an investigation revealed that employees of the US-owned, Melbourne-based car giant received discounts that were not available to the general public, the commission said.
It said these included discounts on factory-fitted options and accessories as well as a discounted dealer delivery fee.
At the beginning of the advertising campaign, a special discount of between 25 per cent and 29 per cent was also available to employees, but not the general public for selected VZ Commodore variants and WL Statesman and Caprice vehicles.
"In financial terms, this meant that a consumer who, at the commencement of the promotion, purchased a VZ Commodore Executive sedan with air-conditioning as a factory-fitted option and a $1495 dealer delivery charge, paid $4729 more to purchase the car than a Holden employee buying the same car," the ACCC statement said.
Holden had believed that the inclusion of fine print qualifications regarding options, accessories and dealer delivery fee had limited the offer to the baseline price of the vehicle, but the ACCC disagreed.
"The ACCC's view was that the headline statement, 'You Pay What We Pay' was so powerful that no qualification in fine print could undo the message it conveyed to consumers," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said.
"The undertaking given by GM Holden provides a mechanism for redress for between 250 and 300 consumers who did not receive the (initial) special discount."
Mr Samuel said while there has been an overall improvement in advertising practices by car manufacturers, the ACCC "will continue to seek improvement where substantive concerns are identified".
"An important message to anyone using powerful and novel messages in their advertising as GM Holden did, is that the message communicated by the advertising to consumers and the goods or service ultimately delivered to those consumers must be a perfect match."
A spokesman for Holden said the company had worked closely with the ACCC to resolve what was "a simple human mistake".
"We offered the public Holden employee pricing, but had mistakenly offered a second discount to Holden employees at the same time for a brief period," the spokesman said.
"This should not have occurred so we are happy to offer refunds to the 314 affected customers if they wish to take that up."
The spokesman said the company had sold a total of 11,000 cars throughout the campaign.
Agee with you mstrand. Reason my last North American four wheels was a '36 Chev panel truck I bought in '47. Since then my cages have come from Germany & Jpn with latter being a Subaru Forester. You know the many so called min-SUVs that all look the same like all the VW rear wheel drive Bugs looked like in 50s.