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KIA CARS SOUR BUYERS, STUDY SHOWS.

Byline: Ben Sullivan Daily News Staff Writer

Does Kia mean ``lemon'' in Korean? It does, according to a survey by the California Public Interest Research Group.

The South Korean automaker's cars topped the 1998 California Lemon Index, compiled by CalPIRG and released last week, because Kia faced the highest rate of arbitration cases, per volume of autos sold in 1997, under the state's lemon law. There was arbitration about one of every 40 cars that Kia sold in the state: 95 cases among 3,757 sales, CalPIRG reported.

By comparison, feel-good car maker Saturn had the best results, with six arbitration cases and 28,998 cars sold: one case for every 4,833 cars.

``Saturn's competitors are making lemons, while Saturn is making lemonade,'' Rosemary Shahan, president of a nonprofit consumer group, CARS, said in a written statement accompanying the CalPIRG report.

The report pointed out that, among the Big Three automakers, General Motors did the best but none fared especially well with its primary nameplate cars, CalPIRG said. Ford had the dubious distinction of leading the group, with one out of every 301 cars sold in the state winding up as the subject of arbitration, the report states, while the rate for Chrysler was one in every 304 cars and for GM, one in every 877.

Of course, Saturn is a unit of GM, so CalPIRG's generalization was, well, a bit too general.

The research group surveyed only the 14 car companies with state-certified arbitration programs and did not mention any details of how they dealt with the disgruntled customers.

``There is a massive difference between car companies when it comes to proper treatment,'' said Jon Golinger, CalPIRG's consumer program director. ``Some companies give you a refund. Some give you the runaround.''

Under California's lemon law, a new or used car is a lemon if it is not fixed within a reasonable number of repair attempts for a given problem while a manufacturer's warranty or a service contract is in effect.

Car makers that participate in the state's arbitration process must resolve consumer disputes within 40 days after a customer applies for an arbitration hearing. CalPIRG said that in some cases the process drags on for months in which customers are unable to use their vehicles.

WORST TO FIRST

The number of arbitration cases per cars sold among car makers with state-certified arbitration programs.

MAKER CARS SOLD PER CASE

Kia 40

AM General 79

Rolls-Royce 133

Hyundai 146

Ford 301

Chrysler 304

Volkswagen/Audi 312

Isuzu 350

Saab 404

Nissan/Infinity 724

General Motors 877

Porsche 887

Honda/Acura2,715

Saturn 4,833

CAPTION(S):

Box

BOX: WORST TO FIRST (see text)
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jan 18, 1999
Words:443
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