Dissatisfaction roseBy Rob Perez
as the automakers
lost market share
The percentage of complaints involving Hawaii's lemon law increased last year for Chrysler Corp. and Mazda Motors of America even though the companies' share of the local market fell, according to state statistics.
The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs noted that Chrysler and Mazda were among four major manufacturers in which their percentage of lemon law complaints in 1998 exceeded their respective market shares.
The others: Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp.
But Chrysler and Mazda were the only ones among the four in which their complaint level rose while their market share declined, according to the statistics.
Chrysler had 22 percent of the lemon law complaints last year, while holding a 17.8 percent share of the car and truck market in Hawaii, according to DCCA.
By contrast, Chrysler had 15 percent of the complaints in 1997, when it had 18.2 percent of the market, the state statistics show.
A Chrysler official said the company tries to help all customers who are unhappy with their vehicles, but not everyone will be pleased.
"We're trying to do what's right as often as we can," said Don McNeely, Hawaii operations manager for Chrysler.
The state's data shows Mazda vehicles accounted for seven complaints, or 10 percent of the overall total, while Mazda's market share was 1.9 percent.
In 1997, Mazda accounted for 3 percent of the complaints and had 2.3 percent of the market.
A Mazda official could not be reached for comment.
But Joe Nicolai, whose JN Automotive Group sells Mazdas, said he was surprised by Mazda's 1998 numbers.
He said he couldn't recall Mazda buying back a vehicle because a local customer was unhappy with it, even though Mazda is liberal with its buybacks.
Nicolai said Mazda and GM sometimes will buy back cars just to placate disgruntled customers, even though the cases aren't legitimate lemon law complaints.
Nicolai's dealership sells Chevrolets and Geos, both GM brands.
The total number of lemon law complaints fell to 72 in 1998, 21.7 percent lower than the 92 complaints in 1997.
New cars or trucks must meet certain criteria -- such as being repaired three or more times for the same problem while under manufacturer's warranty -- before they are considered lemons under Hawaii law.
Consumers can file complaints and take their cases to arbitration, where if successful they can get a refund or replacement vehicle.
"We believe the lemon law survey results are an indication of the degree to which individual auto manufacturers have been responsive to their customers' complaints," said DCCA Director Kathryn Matayoshi.
Her department lauded Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor, both of which had complaint percentages substantially below their respective market shares.