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December 17, 2012

EPA Launches Probe: Do Ford Hybrids Deliver on Fuel Economy Claims?



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a brief statement last week that it “will look at the … data,” following allegations by Consumer Reports (CR) that Ford’s 2013 model C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid do not live up to the automaker’s fuel economy claims of 47 city/47 highway/47 combined miles per gallon (mpg).

On December 6, Consumer Reports published the results of city and highway road trials conducted at its 327-acre Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut—saying that the “discrepancy between our reports and the EPA ratings is the largest we have seen” since the organization began evaluating road performance. 



“Yes, the disclaimer on EPA fuel-economy labels notes that your results may differ,” said the nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. “But the overall mpg for these C-Max and Fusion models is off by a whopping 10 and 8 mpg, respectively, or about 20 percent. Our overall-mpg results are usually pretty close to the EPA's combined-mpg estimate. Among current models, more than 80 percent of the vehicles we've tested are within 2 mpg. And while our highway test results almost always meet or exceed the EPA highway numbers, our highway figures for these cars fell far below [see video].”

CR noted that Toyota’s vehicles were slightly more in line with expectations, with the Prius falling short of mileage claims by six mpg and the Prius c Two off by seven mpg.

Part of the problem may be attributable to the all-electric efficiency ratings of these vehicles. Ford's system can operate in full-electric mode at speeds of up to 62 miles per hour (mph). That ability can greatly improve fuel economy in the EPA highway cycle, since most of the government's simulated driving test measures gasoline used while driving at lower speeds. “But,” said CR, “it won't help at all in the highway portion of the Consumer Reports fuel-economy test, which measures gas consumption at 65 mph. The gap between these results may disappoint those who regularly cruise on the highway at speeds greater than 62 mph.”

What’s more, CR said that “it is worth noting” that automakers mostly self-certify their cars. The EPA then spot-checks about 15 percent of them with its own tests in a lab, using a dynamometer. By contrast, Consumer Reports puts 2,000 break-in miles on the vehicle prior to testing and then runs the cars through regimented speeds, multiple stops, and predetermined idle time on its course, using a precision fuel meter in the fuel line.

In an interview with the Detroit News on December 8, the EPA stated that hybrids are more difficult to rate. “There's absolutely no doubt: A hybrid is going to be far more variable than a conventional vehicle," said Linc Wehrly, director of the Light-Duty Vehicle Center Compliance division at the agency’s Ann Arbor, Michigan-based laboratory."If you said that I could operate in EV-mode until 60 miles an hour for a period of time, you go a long portion on [the EPA] test cycle without the engine going on. That's going to improve your fuel economy."

Raj Nair, group vice president, Global Product Development at Ford, commented, “Hybrid vehicles are a lot more sensitive to environmental conditions and how you drive the vehicles. We agree with the EPA statements that hybrids, in particular, show a lot of variability; but we’ve got a of customers that are actually beating the label , so we’re getting reports on both sides of that.”

Meanwhile, other automakers also have some explaining to do. Last month, Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors admitted overstating mileage claims on 1.1 million vehicles in North America, in the face of an EPA investigation. In related news, on December 6,the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) released the 2013 Fuel Economy Guide, which they say gives “consumers clear and easy-to-read information to help them choose the most fuel efficient and low greenhouse gas emitting vehicles that meet their needs. The 2013 models include efficient and low-emission vehicles in a variety of classes and sizes, but notable this year is the growing availability of hybrids and the increasing number of electric vehicles.”

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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