Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My response to Hyundai's threatening letter

My response to the very scary threat from Hyundai's lawyers (quiver, quiver, shake, shake, tremble, tremble), sent to them this afternoon.  See below for their letter.
Mona A Kaluzi
Kamushinda Kaluzi Attorneys
PO Box 45084

By fax to 3182090

19th October 2010

Dear Sir or Madam

Re Hyundai

I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 14th October 2010 which I received today.

Unfortunately your letter contains a number of inaccuracies and errors and one fundamental mistake.

We have never called into question the quality of the Hyundai brand, nor have we criticised any products or services from Hyundai in general. We have, however, criticised the behaviour and quality of service offered by their dealership in Rustenburg when they attempted, and more often than not failed to repair a specific vehicle owned by a customer in Botswana. Nevertheless I will respond to the issues you raise, using the numbering system you use in your letter.

1 Noted.

2.1 Correct.

2.2 This contradicts 2.1 above where you state that the vehicle “was taken for repairs to Hyundai Rustenburg” and is incorrect. The vehicle WAS taken to the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg as you state in 2.1. How else would they have had it in their possession for nearly a year?

2.3 Incorrect. At no point have I said such a thing. Have you or your clients actually read what was published? For instance you have overlooked the phrase I used in an article on 1st September this year when I said “I should stress that I’ve no problem with Hyundai cars.”

2.4 Incorrect. At no point have I stated, suggested or implied that she bought the car new from HASA. The word “new” referred to her ownership of it. You also use the word new in exactly the same way in your letter when you say that the vehicle “may have been new to the owner”. Reasonable people such as readers of Mmegi and The Voice understand that the word “new” can be used to mean “already existing but seen, experienced, or acquired recently or now for the first time”. The origin of the car was made clear in our article in Mmegi on 24th September 2010.

I question how you can correctly infer my intentions (“intentionally deceiving”) when the information on which you are basing your conclusions is patently incorrect?

2.5 Incorrect. See above.

2.6 Fascinating but irrelevant.

2.7 Incorrect. I think you mean to say that HASA does not “intend to offer support or carry out repairs” to “grey imports”. You state in paragraph 2.8 that “Rustenburg agreed to repair the Hyundai motor vehicle” but admit this was done in error. On this occasion, whether by error or not, the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg offered exactly these services. On at least one occasion a Hyundai dealer has voluntarily and freely offered to repair such a grey import.

2.8 You state that the “Rustenburg dealers failed to check the origin of the Santa Fe”. Frankly that is their problem. By accepting money and delivering services a contract existed between them and the owner of the vehicle: a contract that required the services to be delivered fairly, promptly and with reasonable care and skill. This they conspicuously failed to do.

2.9.1 Considering that we made it clear that our criticism was of the service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and that any contractual relationship was solely between the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and the owner of the vehicle I don’t see how this is relevant.

2.9.2 See my response to 2.4 above.

2.9.3 Incorrect. This was explained fully in our article in Mmegi on 24th September 2010.

2.10 Don’t be ridiculous. Feel free to comment on my words and actions but I doubt you have the clairvoyant skills required to infer my intentions. All the Hyundai parties to this story have had ample opportunity to respond constructively but have failed to do so. This is not our fault.

2.11 Correct. I published comments from Corne Theron that he emailed to me on 14th September 2010. However the so-called disclaimer at the bottom of his email is absurd. The same email was sent to me, the owner of the vehicle, David Astbury and Allan Reinhardt so can hardly be seen as confidential.

Furthermore the email in question was sent to someone he knew already was writing about the case in newspapers published in Botswana. If he had wanted something to be kept confidential he should have sought my agreement in advance before sending it. In such a situation I would have made it clear to him that I would not agree to any such confidentiality requirement.

What’s more, a retrospective requirement for confidentiality, which can only be seen AFTER reading an email is a silly concept. Finally, once that email, without any advance agreement of confidentiality, was received by me it became mine. It is currently stored on MY computer, using MY licenced software and uses MY electricity to display it. It belongs to me and I will use it as I see fit, subject to the constraints of Botswana law.

Just for my interest and better understanding, can you explain which particular Botswana law you believe I have broken?

I note also that you do not complain about the quotations from his earlier emails that I published that were more flattering.

3. Nonsense. Please show me evidence of this. If there were to be any damage to Hyundai’s reputation and the public perception of it’s brand (which I dispute) this would be entirely due to the activities of the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg and the inactivity of Hyundai in South Africa. We have reported the story factually at all times and cannot be held accountable for the effects of any failures of another party.

4. I have repeatedly given David Astbury, the representative for Hyundai in Botswana, the opportunity to intervene and help resolve this problem. On 12th August he told me that he would “monitor the situation and will obviously assist where I feel I can move the matter to the end solution.” On 13th September he assured me that he would “continue to assist where I can.”

The fact that he and HAB have taken no apparent action is not my fault. Despite this at no point have I criticised the Hyundai dealership in Botswana.

Your comments regarding the “objectives” of Consumer Watchdog are perplexing and impertinent. I respectfully suggest that I am in a better position to decide these objectives than you are. We commonly state that our objectives are to “support consumers in Botswana, educate them on their rights, help them to fix problems and expose scams.” In this case we have clearly followed the first three of these.

5.1 I have no plans to apologise. You have not yet identified any way in which our coverage was incorrect. It is the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg who should be apologising for their shameful treatment of the owner of the vehicle. Any further apology should be from Hyundai in South Africa for failing to ensure that their authorised representative in Rustenburg maintains the standards of service and courtesy to which I am sure they aspire.

5.2 No retraction will be published for the reasons explained above. We have reported the facts given to us, published the positive comments from Hyundai in Botswana and South Africa, commented on the lamentable quality of the service delivered by the dealership in Rustenburg and have questioned the impact such levels of service might have on the perception of the brand by consumers. I retract none of this.

5.3 I had no intention to publish any further articles on the shameful way in which the owner of the vehicle has been treated. I believe the story to be concluded. In fact, please allow me to quote Corne Theron’s comments in an email to me on 14th September (even before the car was finally reunited with it’s owner) when he asked me to “kindly note that this case has been closed on our side”. It was already closed on our side too until Hyundai re-opened the issue by instructing you to threaten us.

6. No thanks.

You should note that throughout this regrettable saga we have never questioned or criticised the Hyundai brand and our only criticism of Hyundai South Africa has been related to their failure to intervene effectively to resolve this situation and to address the woefully inadequate and incompetent service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg.

For your information, please consider the following extract from an email that Corne Theron sent to the owner of the vehicle on 30th July 2010. I think this confirms that Hyundai in South Africa realize that the service delivered by their dealership in Rustenburg was sub-standard. It is very disappointing that this helpful and positive tone did not continue.

“Firstly, please accept our sincere apologies for all the inconvenience you had to endure over the past 10 months. I can assure you that this is definitely NOT the level of service we expect from our staff and our dealers. The necessary action will be taken against Rowan for not escalating this matter to myself earlier, that I promise you!

When expecting service one can either receive bad or good service but not this level of service and again, I sincerely apologise on behalf of Hyundai Automotive South Arica, including Mr Alan Ross.

This matter will also be dealt with on dealer level and appropriate action will be taken to ensure that a similar situation does not repeat itself in the future.”

You will see, if you take the time to read the various articles we have published on this subject, that following repairs and while being driven home this vehicle broke down three times. Clearly this calls into question the competence of the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg. This is obviously a subject for comment and criticism.

Some further unanswered questions include:
  • Why certain faults with the car only appeared after the dealership in Rustenburg took possession of the car, agreed to repair it and after they had completed these initial repairs and gave the car back to the owner to drive home (only for it to break down on two such occasions)?
  • Why did the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg fail to give the owner any form of guarantee regarding the work they had undertaken?
  • Why did they fail to give her any cost breakdown of the repairs?
  • Why did they refuse to attend to her when the car broke down for the third time, despite assuring the owner and us over the phone that the car was now perfectly roadworthy?
I think that this is all very telling about the quality of the service delivered by the Hyundai dealership in Rustenburg. Our comments have been prompted by poor service such as this and have remained solely to do with this dreadful quality of service. Instead of attempting to bully their critics with unsupportable threats of legal action I believe that their money would be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps by addressing their failure to ensure that their authorised representative in Rustenburg dealt with the owner of a Hyundai decently and promptly?

Finally I refer you to Sections 195 (a) and 197 (g) and (h) of the Penal Code of Botswana regarding defamation and the situations when comment is conditionally privileged.

Please note that your letter and this response will be published on the Consumer Watchdog blog in the interest of fairness, openness and to offer both “sides” to this story.


Richard Harriman

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