The publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and Suzuki Motor Corp. have settled an eight-year-old lawsuit in which the Japanese automaker claimed the magazine doctored road tests in 1988 that found the Suzuki Samurai tipped over too easily, The Associated Press (AP) reported.


Suzuki reportedly filed the suit in 1996 – a year after it stopped selling the small sport utility vehicle – in US District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana, Calif.


Statements issued Thursday by Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, and Suzuki said the lawsuit had been dismissed “and Suzuki has not demanded or received monetary compensation”, AP added.


Consumers Union spokeswoman Linda Wagner told the news agency that Suzuki and Consumers Union filed a joint motion Thursday to have the case dismissed, and the court complied.


“The parties have acknowledged their mutual respect for each other in that Suzuki recognizes CU‘s stated commitment for objective and unbiased testing and reporting, and CU recognises Suzuki’s stated commitment for designing, manufacturing and marketing safe vehicles,” the statements reportedly said.


The Associated Press noted that, while legal matters have been resolved, conflicts remain – Consumers Union and Suzuki said they still disagree on the validity of Consumer Reports’ avoidance manoeuvre tests on the Samurai in 1988. Suzuki reportedly disputes the findings but Consumers Union stands by them.


AP said that Consumers Union president Jim Guest stopped short of calling the resolution a victory for the non-profit organisation but said “we’re certainly very pleased with the way the lawsuit’s been resolved.”


“From our point of view, the case has been dismissed, we’ve issued no retractions or corrections, paid no money and fully stand by … the article we published,” he added, according to the report


Cam Smith Arnold, a vice president with Brea, California-based American Suzuki Motor Corp., reportedly said the agreement allowed the automaker to walk away with its image restored.


“It was really not about money,” Smith Arnold told AP. “It was about restoring the reputation of the Samurai product and the name and brand of Suzuki. We were able to get this from a settlement versus a trial, and we’re very happy with it.”


AP noted that Samurai sales plunged after the 1988 test led the magazine to brand the SUV “not acceptable.” Other news organizations also reported possible dangers. Samurai production ended in 1995, and Suzuki sued in 1996 after Consumer Reports made another reference in a timeline to the Samurai and its tipping tendencies.


Suzuki reportedly claimed Consumer Reports employees designed their road tests to get the Samurai to tip and then used its reports to make money in fund-raising and subscription drives.


The case was thrown out by the trial judge, but the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it and, in November, the Supreme Court refused to stop it from going forward, the report said.


News groups including the Associated Press had urged the Supreme Court to review the appeals court decision, arguing the public has been protected over the years by reports on the dangers of smoking and fast food, among others.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reportedly declined to declare the vehicle defective and has criticised Consumer Reports’ tests because of driver variation – Consumers Union said it disagrees with NHTSA’s position.


AP noted that Consumers Union also said it has never questioned the safety of any other Suzuki model it has tested – it said its statement that the Samurai “easily rolls over in turns” was limited to severe turns in Consumer Reports’ short course avoidance manoeuvre.


“CU’s use of the adverb ‘easily’ may have been misconstrued and misunderstood,” Thursday’s statements from both sides reportedly said. “CU never intended to state or imply that the Samurai easily rolls over in routine driving conditions.”


The Associated Press said that, earlier this year, Consumer Reports enlisted its readers to defend itself against Suzuki’s charges – the magazine’s March issue included a column highly critical of the lawsuit and told readers they could “write to Suzuki expressing your concern regarding its punitive lawsuit.” It also urged letters to General Motors Corp., which has a 20% stake in Suzuki, and gave the names and addresses of top officers.


George Bell, Suzuki’s managing counsel, reportedly called the column highly inappropriate.


AP said that Suzuki, looking to become a bigger player in the US automotive market, plans to introduce two new sport utility vehicles in the next couple of years, part of an ambitious plan to triple US sales by 2007.


Through June, Suzuki’s U.S. sales were up 23.3% from the same period last year, the Associated Press said, citing data from Autodata Corp.