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EPA Will Review 2013 Ford Fusion, C-Max Fuel Economy Claims

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Two weeks ago, we mentioned that the Hyundai/Kia fuel-economy fiasco was turning heads in Congress and suggested that this could cause the Environmental Protection Agency to take a closer look at other vehicles.

That's now happening. 

According to AutoNews, the EPA will review complaints about the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid and 2013 Ford C-Max hybrid, both of which are advertised as earning a combined fuel economy of 47 mpg. 

As our colleagues at Green Car Reports noted, auto critics and consumers began contesting the C-Max's fuel economy claims some time ago. In test drives, GCR averaged around 40 mpg, which is roughly what C-Max owners have received over longer periods of driving.

Shortly thereafter, numbers for the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid began rolling in, and they were even lower -- generally in the range of 35 - 37 mpg.

Perhaps the most vocal criticism of the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid came from Consumer Reports, which drove each vehicle for thousands of miles on test tracks and public roads. In the end, the magazine rated the Fusion Hybrid at 39 mpg and the C-Max at 37 mpg, placing the latter a full 10 mpg below its advertised fuel economy.

In light of such complaints, the EPA will now audit the vehicles' fuel-efficiency claims for itself.

A repeat of the Hyundai/Kia controversy?

Will Ford suffer the same rough fate as Hyundai and Kia? Maybe, maybe not.

Last week, the EPA's Linc Wehrly told AutoNews that fuel economy in hybrids is apt to vary widely -- far more so than in conventional, combustion-engined vehicles. That's because of variables in hybrid systems: the distance a vehicle can travel in electric or assisted mode is subject to fluctuation, and that, in turn, can have an exponential effect on gas consumption. 

Wehrly's statements are backed up by Consumer Reports. Prior to the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid tests, the magazine found its biggest fuel-economy discrepancies on Prius models, which fell 6 to 7 mpg below stated ratings.

Ultimately, that means that -- in this case, anyway -- Ford may be held to a lower standard of accuracy than Hyundai and Kia were. (Of the 13 Hyundai/Kia models cited by the EPA, most relied solely on gasoline.) For example, Ford might be required to amend window stickers on the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid so that they more accurately reflect real-world fuel-efficiency. However, there's a good chance that automaker would avoid the kind of fines being considered for Hyundai and Kia. 

But that doesn't mean that Ford will walk away with just a slap on the wrist. It would be in the company's best interest to create a reimbursement plan for consumers who've already purchased the C-Max and the Fusion Hybrid -- something along the lines of what Hyundai and Kia are doing for their customers, though Ford's liability wouldn't approach the $100 million per year that its South Korean competitors will be paying.

Nor does it mean that Ford would dodge lawsuits -- potentially, some of the class-action variety. Such litigation could cost Hyundai and Kia $775 million, though again, Ford's liability would likely be far less since (a) it only has two models under investigation; (b) those models are from one model year, not three like Hyundai/Kia; and (c) the EPA has tempered the blow of such suits by easing Ford's culpability with regard to hybrids.

Our take

We can draw at least two conclusions from this controversy.

First and foremost, in the Internet Age, automakers must pay increasing attention to detail. Frustrated consumers now have countless blogs, forums, and social media channels through which to find one another. If an owner becomes annoyed with a vehicle's features -- from its fuel economy to its infotainment system to the upholstery in the trunk -- he or she can easily find others with similar complaints. If enough of those pile up, it could spell trouble for the automaker's image, its bottom line, or both.

Second, as hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced-tech vehicles grow in popularity, the auto industry, regulators, and the public need to find new ways of accurately conveying fuel economy. As we've discussed, miles-per-gallon probably won't fit the bill much longer (if it ever did). While the industry transitions over the next several decades from cars powered by fossil fuels to those driven by batteries, it's unlikely that one metric will work for every vehicle. But hopefully we can agree on a combined standard that makes sense to all parties.

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Comments (15)
  1. Let me see if I have this straight, the EPA is going to audit the vehicles' mileage claims? Do they mean the EPA is going to audit THEIR OWN mileage claims, seeing as how the posted window-sticker mileage are EPA figures!!!??? People, get real. Blaming the manufacturer for EPA milage claims which don't measure up is a lot like blaming the pilot when your parachute doesn't open. One has nothing to do with the other.

  2. The mileage claims are from Ford not the EPA. This was brought up in numerous articles.

  3. tells everything about the window label and where the numbers come from.

  4. Ford and the other manufacturers use what to determine mileage? EPA tests! Years ago, car buyers complained that their mileage never came close to the EPA ratings, and the EPA (not the manufacturers) changed the testing methods. Check a window sticker on a new car: "EPA/DOT Fuel Economy and Environment".

  5. Ted: The tests may be EPA approved, but automakers conduct them. Therefore, it's entirely appropriate for the EPA to step in and verify that the automakers have accurately reported results.

  6. So true!

  7. It's not about the EPA lunkhead. Its about the consumer. Ever hear of truth in advertising?

  8. We have had the ford fusion hybrid for two weeks now and the best we get is 42 MPG over 500 miles and with 5 MPG missing is kinda sad , we owend the 2010 hybrid and we avreged 38 and this was on target with the EPA numbers . I Think that now the EPA get the numbers fron the manufaturers now AKA huyndiai. We have cut Dollars from goverment agencies and the consumers pay the price .

  9. We bought a Cmax two weeks ago. There is NO WAY we will EVER get 47 mpg AND WE LIVE IN FLAT FLORIDA!! I work hard to get the ~38 avg mpg I get now...and I mean I drive 65 on the interstate rather than 70...try to constantly watch the fuel efficiency numbers to 'downshift' the car so that the battery will kick in rather than the engine...but that doesn't last long because the battery will only take it a couple of miles before it must be recharged by the fueled engine. Regardless--BIG disappointment that I let go of our Honda hybrid that got 40+ mpg for this car that gets less--and I never had to work hard to get the 40+ mpg on my Honda. SHAME ON YOU FORD!!! YOU CAN BELIEVE THAT IF THERE IS A CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT--I'LL BE IN LINE!!

  10. No Debra, you will never get to the 47 MPG in flat Florida or anywhere else. At least not as long as you continue to out drive the battery power. If you bothered to read the sticker, manual, etc. you would notice that the electric power, where you get the MPG from, ends once you exceed 62 MPH. No other Hybrid operates up to that speed, except the C-MAX and Fusion Hybrids. Drive on the electric system by NOT exceeding 62 MPH and see what the diference becomes. If you want to fly at 65, 70, etc., buy a gas powered car. You are defeating the purpose of the hybrid when you exceed the ratings.

  11. went from prius to fusion hybrid. Prius was within 3mpg of claimed epa. fusion is not within 13mpg of epa. put me in front of the line for class action suit. The sales person lies you buy and are stuck for the next three years. buy american?????

  12. 39 or 37 even 32 combined MPG is absolutely outstanding for a car the size and weight of a FORD Fusion! A crappy Honda 4 cylinder buzzy hard riding hatchback is usually necessary to get that kind of mileage. A car over 3200 lbs returning that economy is really exceptional.

  13. must be a ford retiree, don,t advertise 47 mpg when you know darn well it will never obtain it. The facts are ford LIED last ford for me

  14. Open letter to Ford:

    I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived. I want to support US companies and US jobs. What was Ford thinking when they published 47/ 47/47 estimates? Based on the advertised EPA estimates, I would have been ok with low 40's but 28-33 mpg is not even in the ballpark. This is not an issue about EPA testing standards, but rather an issue about setting false customer expectations in order to promote sales. Ford's "47MPG" marketing campaign tarnished what should have been the roll out of a truly remarkable vehicle, the CMAX. Real world MPG estimates should have been promoted in the mid-30's.

  15. I own a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid. I get 43 mpg, this is before they upgraded the computers. People have to learn drive again, if you are used to fast starts, or pedal to the metal, or you have to pass a car to show off you have the power under the hood. Don't get the Hybrid. Yes you can start faster then a regular car, yes you have the power under the hood. What you wont get is the gas mileage.

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