It was around April of 2011 when I noticed an ad in the Toronto subway for the 2012 Ford Focus, touting fuel economy of 59 MPG. I dwelled on that outrageous figure for a second, made a mental note to check if they were using Imperial MPG measurements and then promptly fell asleep on the train home and missed my stop. A Google search for the Ford Focus mpg claims didn’t yield anything from the Blue Oval, but did reveal a Google ad showing Mazda touting the same figures for its 2012 Mazda3 SkyACTIV, rated for 40 mpg on the highway. Even so, this would only be 48 mpg Imperial. So what gives? 10 mpg is not an insignificant difference.
The wildly exaggerated fuel economy claims came up again,while doing research for my Dodge Avenger story. Dodge’s Canadian website shows at 29/42 mpg city/highway, along with some other comically high figures, like the Challenger and Charger returning 24/39 mpg. Dodge notes that as far as fuel economy ratings go “Transport Canada test methods used. Your actual fuel consumption may vary.” Of course, when you convert the Avenger’s L/100km rating into US MPG (9.9 and6.7 respectively), the conversion works out to 23.76 mpg in town and 35.11 on the highway, which still doesn’t jibe with the notion that they are using Imperial MPG figures.
So, what exactly are the Transport Canada test methods? Canada’s Fuel Consumption Guide offers a long-winded explanation involving cars being broken in for 6000 km, and then tested on a dynometer using a standardized procedure. The only problem is that all fuel economy ratings are voluntarily reported to Transport Canada by the OEMs. A report by the Canadian Broadcasting Company found that the Consumption Guide regularly overstated fuel consumption figures, sometimes by as much as 22 percent. The Canadian guide even offers a warning on page 10 advising consumers that
“Fuel consumption ratings in Canada and fuel economy ratings in the United States will differ significantly. Beginning with the model year 2008, the United States implemented additional testing cycles and procedures for its fuel economy ratings. Furthermore, U.S. fuel economy ratings are listed in miles per U.S. gallon and are averaged based on U.S. sales and adjustment factors.”
The CBC report also stats that Canadian tests are done under “ideal conditions”, while the EPA’s 2008 revisions to their fuel economy standards “…added tests using air conditioning and during cold temperature at city speeds and harder acceleration and braking at highway speeds…” Canada’s methods, on the other hand, date back nearly 40 years.
What makes this so nefarious is that the L/100km metric is rarely understood by a population that ignored Canadian car publications for U.S. rags, making MPG the most common fuel economy heuristic in people’s minds. The cavalier attitude towards the marketing of mpg figures, in a country with a high cost of living, pricier cars and more expensive gasoline is quite frankly deceitful if not nefarious.
On Monday, I will be picking up a Mazda3 SkyACTIV, and while I had originally intended to do a Take Two Review of the car, I will be keeping a very close eye on fuel consumption. Canada’s fuel guide lists the car as returning 37/56 mpg for the sedan with a 6-speed manual, and 40/58 for the automatic equipped version – likely the Mazda reported numbers under “ideal conditions”. This works out to 7.7/5.0 L/100 km and 7.1/4.9 respectively. Converted to US MPG, this would be 30/47 or 33/48 mpg respectively. A discrepancy between the numbers is still present. Let’s see what I come back with at the end of next week. The Globe and Mail’s Michael Vaughan wrote a report about the matter this week, but nobody from AJAC, Canada’s Auto Journalist guild, has raised the issue so far.