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Consumer Group Hits Peugeot Safety, Starts Boycott

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Times Staff Writer

Citing safety concerns that were quickly disputed, a coalition of consumer groups Monday launched a boycott of Peugeot cars just as the French auto maker is set to begin a major campaign to increase sales in the United States.

The consumer coalition--headed by Rosemary Dunlap, formerly of San Diego, who was credited with spurring passage of California’s “lemon law” in 1982--attacked Peugeot’s safety record and urged it and other auto makers to install air bags in new cars.

Kim Derderian, spokesman for Peugeot’s U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, said: “I certainly expect (the boycott) to raise some questions in the minds of car buyers . . . but we know we have a safe car.”

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Plans Media Blitz

She added that the announced boycott should not affect Peugeot’s plans to launch a reported $25-million media blitz, aimed at nearly doubling the company’s total of 10,500 cars sold in the United States this year.

Dunlap, founder of a group called Motor Voters that is heading the boycott, pointed to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on test crashes in charging that Peugeot’s safety record is “appallingly poor,” ranking at or near the bottom of the industry.

But Ron De Fore, spokesman for the highway safety agency, disputed the group’s view, saying in an interview: “These people have drawn so many inaccurate conclusions from the test data as to make this whole boycott irresponsible.”

Easier Target

Dunlap said that her group picked Peugeot in part because its small U.S. market made it an easier target than other, larger companies that she said have been slow to install air bags.

Dunlap led a grass-roots movement seven years ago based in San Diego to reform laws protecting car buyers. Now working out of Washington, she was joined in the Peugeot boycott by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Auto Safety and the Physicians for Auto Safety, among others.

The boycotters plan to picket Peugeot dealers in the Washington area this weekend, urging customers not to buy Peugeots unless the company commits to using air bags. They plan to expand the boycott step by step after that, Dunlap said.

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