In the latest in a series of FTC cases targeting deceptive ads for products that promise to improve automobile performance and economy, SplitFire, Inc., has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that economy, efficiency and improved performance claims for its spark plugs were false or unsubstantiated. The agreement to settle the FTC charges will bar SplitFire from making deceptive claims about fuel economy, emissions, horsepower or cost savings. The company also will be barred from misrepresenting the results of tests, studies or research and from misrepresenting testimonials.
SplitFire, Inc., is a Northbrook, Illinois-based marketer of nationally advertised, premium priced spark plugs that feature a v shape it terms, "split electrode."
SplitFire advertises that use of its patented spark plugs results in significantly better fuel economy, greater horsepower, lower emissions and cost savings than use of either conventional spark plugs or platinum-tipped spark plugs. According to the complaint detailing the FTC charges, SplitFire ads stated:
- "Equipped with conventional spark plugs, up to 15% of the combustion cycles in a modern engine end up in 'partial misfires.’ SplitFire’s larger flame kernel helps reduce partial misfires, and experts say it helps improve: Performance, Economy, Emissions." and
- "It only costs more 'til you use It," and;
- "SplitFire conducts continuous consumer surveys to constantly monitor 'real life’ performance in all vehicle types. . . 70% reported a gas mileage increase of from 1 to 6 more miles per gallon."
The SplitFire ads also featured consumer endorsements making claims such as, "They’ll pay for themselves, basically, in the first 6 months you own 'em," according to the FTC complaint.
The FTC alleged that SplitFire did not possess and rely upon a reasonable basis to support the claims, that SplitFire’s claims that surveys confirm gas mileage increases were false, and that Splitfire did not have a reasonable basis to claim that the testimonials used in its ads reflect the typical or ordinary experience of consumers who use SplitFire spark plugs.
The consent order to settle the charges would prohibit SplitFire from making fuel economy, emissions, horsepower or cost savings claims without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support them. It would also prohibit misrepresentations about the existence, contents, validity, results, conclusions or interpretations of any test or study. Finally, in connection with testimonials, the settlement would require that SplitFire have scientific evidence to substantiate claims in endorsements or testimonials; that Splitfire disclose what the typical or ordinary consumer experience would be; or that the company disclose the limited applicability of the endorser’s experience -- that is, that consumers should not expect to experience similar results.
The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. The proposed agreement will be placed on the public record for a 60-day public comment period. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the complaint and consent agreement are available on the Internet at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. Consent agreements subject to public comments also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202- 326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov (no period).
(FTC File No. 952 3029)
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