The plaintiffs argue that Dodge knowingly "misled" them into buying the exclusive SUV, only for Dodge to make the car less exclusive than originally promised.
A group of buyers who purchased the 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat is seeking a jury trial to bring a class action lawsuit against FCA and Stellantis after the corporate entities decided to produce a second model year of the limited-volume super SUV.
In August last year, a 2021 model year buyer named Stacy Phillips made it known that he was looking to initiate a lawsuit against Dodge, arguing that the automaker had misled customers by promising that the original production run would be limited to a single year and then going back on that promise by reintroducing the special variant for the 2023 model year. That litigation process is now gathering steam, and you can read the full filing here.
A quick refresher: When Dodge launched the 2021 Durango Hellcat, it said that it would only produce around 2,000 examples, a figure that later swelled to around 3,000. Fair enough - there was a lot more demand than Dodge anticipated, so it increased the production run by 50%. Then rumors started to emerge that the automaker would manufacture even more models, and this was finally confirmed in August last year with the reveal of the '23 model.
Now, the issue here is that many of the buyers who put their names down for the '21 model expected that their cars would be among a batch of no more than 3,000 that were to be produced for a single model year. Assuming that their cars would remain as exclusive as they seemed they would be, buyers sprung to sign on the dotted line, with many presuming that the single year of production would guarantee an appreciating value on the used market. Reintroducing the car for 2023 minimized that potential windfall, especially since the new production run came so soon after the last ended.
The lawsuit has been brought forward by Stacy Phillips, Lawrence Willis, Eli Negron III, Christian Papana, Jason van Genderen, Mark Hollingsworth, and Jeffrey G Heintz Sr. These plaintiffs hail from Virginia, Texas, New York, California, Illinois, Georgia, and Florida and are pooling their resources for a class action suit (with region-specific subclasses) that, if successful, would benefit all 2021 Durango Hellcat buyers who made a purchase before the announcement of the 2023 model.
The plaintiffs claim that the promise of a single year of production swayed them and that without this level of exclusivity, they may not have paid as much as they did or may have skipped on the car altogether. The plaintiffs have also noted how widely publicized the promise of a single model year was, citing articles from this and other prominent industry publications. This is the basis of the lawsuit - Dodge was very vocal that buyers only had "one shot" to get behind the wheel of the V8-powered and supercharged SUV.
One excerpt from an interview with Motor Authority quotes Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis explaining why the special edition was brought back: "Let's be honest, it's a publicly traded company. I have an obligation to the shareholders to make as much money as I can. So how do I look at the shareholders and go, 'Yeah, I have 3k people willing to spend 85k for an SUV,' and I told them sorry, too bad?"
The plaintiffs assert that Dodge may have intentionally misled them at the start, knowing full well that it would eventually renege on its claim of so-limited production and essentially initiate a "bait & switch" scheme on the buyers. If all goes as the plaintiffs hope, their lawyers will ask if Dodge and its affiliates knew in advance that they would reintroduce the model; if they were "unjustly enriched"; if they "breached their express warranties that Class Vehicles would be limited to a one-year production run only"; and if they directly or indirectly deceived buyers and/or disseminated false advertising, among other things. There are various state laws that come into play too.
In a nutshell, the plaintiffs feel that Dodge acted knowingly and chose to actively mislead them, with this resulting in the purchase of cars that would be less exclusive than anticipated and with a lower resale value. The trick will be to prove that Dodge was in the wrong and was not simply protecting its own interests based on overwhelming and unexpected demand.
Dodge may argue that it had no idea the Durango Hellcat would be quite so popular and made the decision based on financial motivations. Dodge may also argue that a change in corporate strategy may have affected the decision; as Dodge muscle cars head for electrification, Dodge may contend that it decided to reintroduce the supercharged Durango as a means of celebrating an engine that will soon be extinct and that, without the diversion towards electrification, it may have kept the Durango Hellcat as exclusive as originally intended.
If the plaintiffs can prove that Dodge acted unlawfully and that they have been impacted financially, the court needs to determine how much buyers have been affected and what a suitable remedy would be. How does one ascertain what a car might have been worth if another run had not been produced, particularly in these unpredictable economic conditions?
On the one hand, some say that buyers should just enjoy their cars and forget about this. On the other, there is no doubt that a large portion of buyers chose to pay a premium price solely because of the promised exclusivity factor. The man at the center of the original story from last year, Stacy Phillips, said at the time that he "had to do something if only out of principle," and we totally get his point of view.
Naturally, the carmaking defendants will keep mum about this whole thing until the lawsuit is settled, but we suspect they have learned their lesson; we doubt any brands under the Stellantis umbrella will ever bring back a limited-run vehicle so soon after "discontinuing" it again.
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