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Christopher Tan
Friday, May 30, 2014

Singapore

Hotelier loses suit against Rolls-Royce agent

The Straits Times | Christopher Tan | Friday, May 30, 2014

Billionaire Koh Wee Meng.

The High Court has dismissed a claim by a hotel tycoon that his $1.4 million Rolls-Royce Phantom was defective because it produced some noise and vibration when making three-point turns.

But in doing so, Justice Judith Prakash has suggested that Rolls-Royce may be wise to moderate some of its advertising "puffery".

Mr James Koh Wee Meng, 51, the man behind the Fragrance chain of budget hotels, appointed Senior Counsel Davinder Singh to file a suit against Rolls-Royce agent Trans Eurokars in late 2011.

He claimed that his Phantom - Rolls-Royce's flagship model - made a loud noise and vibrated whenever he turned the steering wheel sharply, for instance, when making a three-point turn.

He said in the suit that Trans Eurokars failed to rectify the purported flaw - which he said he noticed soon after taking delivery of the vehicle in December 2008 - despite repeated attempts.

In a judgment issued yesterday, Justice Prakash said she arrived at her decision after weighing expert evidence from both sides. The experts included Mr Robert Matawa, an engineer at international testing and certification group TUV SUD Automotive.

Mr Matawa tested six similar Phantoms, and they all had varying values on the so-called Berwertungs Index (BI) - an evaluation index used by the automotive industry. Of the lot, the best score was 7.75, while the worst was 5.75.

He found that Mr Koh's car - which was rated 6 on the BI in an earlier test - was "not defective".

The TUV engineer added that the noise and vibration were a consequence of "parking phenomenon", which was triggered by high forces exerted between tyres and the road, and which was evident in all the Phantoms tested.

The judge said she found Mr Matawa "convincing".

But not so for the evidence of Mr David Bellamy, a UK-based self-employed vehicle examiner, who said the condition of Mr Koh's car was "unacceptable".

His evidence, she said, was "entirely subjective". In fact, she noted that when he first tested Mr Koh's car, he did not apply a rating to it, and that he had started doing so only after he had seen a copy of another expert's report.

In doing so, she also noted that Mr Bellamy had "erroneously referred" to the index as "B1" (B-One) rather than BI. As such, his "attempt to rate the Rolls on the BI scale was strained and difficult to give much credence to".

She dismissed Mr Koh's claim with costs, but not before commenting on the hype surrounding Rolls-Royce cars.

On the one hand, she said Mr Koh "cannot really expect the experience of driving in the Rolls to be the same as flying on a cloud, which is the impression some may get from the term 'waftability' made up many years ago to describe the experience of travelling in a Rolls-Royce".

But on the other, "it may be wise for Rolls-Royce to moderate its advertising puffery".

She added: "In no fairy tale has any magic carpet exhibited the parking phenomenon."

Trans Eurokars' executive chairman, through his lawyer Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, said he was "extremely pleased with the outcome".

Mr Koh was uncontactable.

christan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 28, 2014.
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