Dec. 27, 2012 at 7:24 PM ET
Ford Motor Co. is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging the maker’s mileage claims for two new hybrid models are “false and misleading.”
The maker has made fuel economy a major part of its advertising pitch for new products, notably including the 2013 C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid models. But its official ratings have come in for criticism, notably from such influential sources as Consumer Reports magazine.
But Ford is by no means alone. Korean siblings Kia and Hyundai recently had to roll back their own mileage numbers by as much as 6 mpg after conceding they fudged the official government testing process.
“In its advertising and marketing campaign for the vehicles, Ford claimed that the C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid achieved a class leading 47 Miles Per Gallon,” reads part of the lawsuit filed by California-based law firm McCuneWright. “These materials helped Ford achieve record sales for the first two months of C-MAX Hybrid sales, outselling its rival, hybrid sales leader Toyota, but there was a problem. These ads were false.”
McCuneWright filed its lawsuit on behalf of Richard Pitkin of Roseville, Calif., who claims he is getting just 37 mpg from the C-Max Hybrid he purchased in October. According to the mileage numbers approved by the Environmental Protection Agency – which regulates fuel economy testing – the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid models both get 47 mpg in city and highway, as well as combined, cycles.
The lawsuit follows a report by Consumer Reports that also found the C-Max averaging just 37 mpg overall, while the Fusion Hybrid averaged 39 mpg.
In a blog post, the magazine said, “These two vehicles have the largest discrepancy between our overall-mpg results and the estimates published by the EPA that we’ve seen among any current models.”
Ford has defended its mileage numbers and notes that the vehicles can be driven more aggressively in Sport mode, which will yield lower mileage.
“Early C-MAX Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid customers praise the vehicles and report a range of fuel economy figures, including some reports above 47 mpg,” Ford’s global marketing chief Jim Farley said earlier this month. “This reinforces the fact that driving styles, driving conditions, and other factors can cause mileage to vary.”
The EPA reportedly is investigating Ford’s testing procedures to ensure they comply with federal standards. A routine audit revealed that Hyundai and Kia had knowingly made procedural mistakes that resulted in a significant increase in reported mileage.
The Korean carmakers have had to reduce their rating by anywhere from one to six miles per gallon. They have also agreed to provide debit cards to owners of the affected vehicles to cover increased fuel costs. Both are also facing numerous lawsuits stemming from the mileage flap.
A number of other makers have also faced backlash over allegedly excessive mileage claims – especially with hybrid models. Consumer Reports says tests of two Toyota Prius models fell an average six to seven mpg short of EPA ratings.
Fuel economy can vary widely depending upon factors such as driver behavior, climate and even fuel quality. And hybrids are “going to be far more variable than a conventional vehicle,” according to Linc Wehrly, director of the EPA compliance division’s test center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Part of the problem is the way the EPA test is conducted. It has a maximum speed of just 60 mph, far less than most motorists now drive on U.S. highways.
Both Toyota and Ford hybrids can operate in electric-only mode only up to 62 mph, so at speeds above that mileage may drop sharply even if vehicles like the C-Max or Prius provide accurate numbers under EPA guidelines.
The EPA has revised its testing procedures several times over the years, most recently in 2009. It plans to expand the audit that nabbed Hyundai and Kia but has not indicated whether a further revision of mileage testing procedures may be needed to give a better reflection of what consumers can expect in the real world.
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