Owners of the Ford C-Max hybrid will be getting a check for $550 from Ford, as compensation for what the company now concedes was a mileage estimate that didn't live up to consumers' real-world experience.
Ford said late Friday that it would reduce the fuel-economy rating for the C-Max to 43 miles per gallon from the 47 mpg that it had widely advertised in its quest to produce a Prius-killer. Customers who leased their C-Max will get $325.
Eligible customers, about 32,000 of them, will be notified by mail. Dealers will be attaching new mileage labels to cars on their lots.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it did not plan to take any action against Ford, saying the automaker did not do anything illegal. "Ford did not do anything illegal," EPA official Christopher Grundler told Automotive News.
Ford has long contended that it arrived at its 47 mpg estimate by following the EPA's rules, an assertion the agency has not disputed. Grundler said the EPA will be updating the rules that automakers follow in arriving at mileage estimates.
Ford has faced withering criticism and lawsuits challenging its claimed 47 mpg rating, which is expected to be lowered to 43 mpg. The ratings are based on data gathered under (EPA) Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
In an initial attempt to quell the clamor, Ford said in July that it would recalibrate the software on the C-Max to deliver better fuel economy.
The Ford Fusion hybrid uses the same technology but has not been the subject of widespread complaints. Many C-Max owners, on the other hand, have been vocal about their displeasure.
"I thought my 2013 C-MAX would be a Prius Killer? NOT! As a returning Ford buyer I feel deceived," said Ronald of South Portland, Maine. "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."
The Toyota Prius, which is smaller and lighter than the C-Max, has a combined rating of 50 mpg, making it the only non-plug-in nameplate with higher EPA fuel-economy than the C-Max.
Hybrid ratings difficult
Although the C-Max episode is a serious blow to its image as an emerging leader in fuel economy, Ford is not alone in tripping over attempts to wring the highest possible mpg ratings out of its hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles.
Hyundai and Kia backed down on lofty fuel claims earlier this year, retreating from their 40 mpg claim and modifying it to values ranging from 36 to 38 mpg, depending on the model.
That move came about under pressure from the EPA, which said the ratings had been based on flawed test results. The companies offered about 900,000 customers prepaid fuel cards as compensation for the error.
Toyota's Prius has also come in for heavy criticism from many of its owners, although it also has a large band of loyalists.
All manufacturers and the EPA are battling a number of variables that make it harder to accurately predict the real-world fuel economy of hybrids as compared to gas- and diesel-powered models.
Perhaps the biggest variable is speed. Most hybrids beat internal combustion engines hands-down in stop-and-go urban driving, since the electric motor does most of the work. But it's a different story on the highway, where the often-small gas engine takes over.
While hybrids may turn in respectable mileage at 55 miles per hour or so, their performance suffers at higher speeds. It takes a lot more energy -- and, therefore, fuel -- to push a car along at 70 than at 55, perhaps 25% more in cars with smaller engines.
While 55 may be the speed limit on many Interstates, it's downright dangerous to drive that slowly, a circumstance government regulators don't seem eager to address.
Weather can also be a factor. Drivers who live in cold climates can expect worse mileasge in the winter, regardless of what kind of car they're driving. Vehicle condition is also a factor. New cars tend to get poorer mileage until they are "broken in" and all cars deliver poorer mileage with worn tires and engines in need of maintenance.