Ford said it’s cutting the advertised fuel-economy rating of its C-Max Hybrid car to 43 mpg from 47 mpg, and compensating current owners with a $325 to $550 check — a costly move that Ford hoped to avoid. Mounting lawsuits and haggling over the rating with the Environmental Protection Agency forced its hand.
Ford has faced heavy criticism from owners and the media about worse-than-expected fuel economy for several new models, including the C-Max, whose window stickers and advertising have claimed 47 mpg for city, highway and combined driving. The ratings are based on tests Ford conducted itself and data it submitted to the EPA.
Ford said it will provide $550 to U.S. customers who purchased a C-Max and $325 to customers who have leased the vehicle to make up for the discrepancy. It doesn’t matter when the car was purchased.
U.S. sales of the C-Max this year are 23,040 through July. That gives Ford 15 percent of the electric and hybrid market this year, up from 4% last year.
The root of the problem Ford has had with its fuel economy numbers includes issues like:
1. There can be a huge difference between the fuel economy that can be achieved in EPA testing environments and the real-life driving conditions customers face. Also, driving habits and practices among car owners vary greatly and have a big impact on real-world fuel economy. When AOL Autos tested the C-Max Hybrid for a week in mixed driving, for example, they achieved only about 32 mpg, not the 47 mpg Ford advertised. However, when I reviewed the C-Max, I averaged over 44 MPG combined.
2. Automakers are striving to reach tougher fuel economy standards imposed by the government, and so are reaching for every mile per gallon they can claim through the testing process.
3. Research shows that the higher a car’s fuel economy is, as advertised, the more consumers will associate that car and brand with quality. That is a big incentive for carmakers to scrounge every mile per gallon claim.
After AOL conducted the test, Ford’s chief engineer on the car, John Davis, spoke with them about the variables of fuel economy with the C-Max. Davis explained that several factors can hold fuel economy back from reaching the magic 47 mpg. During the break-in period of a new C-Max, fuel economy can be held back by 5 mpg, he said. Cold weather can retard fuel economy by another 5 or so mpg. Maintaining a cabin temperature of around 72-degrees, while it is 40 degrees or below outside, for example, can hurt fuel economy because the engine will be cycling more often to keep the cabin warm. Driving above 70 mph will also hold back fuel economy, as will having improperly inflated tires.
Ford is the second automaker to be bedeviled by fuel economy claims in the past year. Hyundai and its Kia affiliate in November agreed to change the labels on most of their models after the agency discovered that the brands had submitted flawed results for one of the tests used to calculate fuel economy numbers.
All four Hyundai and Kia nameplates that had been advertised as getting 40 mpg in highway driving received new labels showing 36 to 38 mpg. Hyundai and Kia offered customers of 900,000 vehicles prepaid fuel cards for compensation. Last January, Bloomberg reported that Hyundai reserved $225 million and Kia about $187 million to cover the reimbursements.
Ford used the 47 mpg number as the headline of its C-Max advertising last fall. Beginning in October, it aired a series of animated ads that pitted the C-Max against the rival Toyota Prius V. In addition to better fuel economy, Ford said the C-Max was more fun to drive than the Prius, as well.
The Toyota Prius, with a combined rating of 50 mpg, is the only non-plug-in vehicle with higher EPA fuel-economy than the C-Max and the Fusion, according to FuelEconomy.gov, a Department of Energy Web site.