By on December 11, 2012

Consumer Reports’ story about two Ford hybrids falling way short of their official 47 MPG number has attracted the EPA’s attention. The agency “will look at the report and data,” it told Reuters.

Last week, Consumer Reports said the Fusion hybrid delivers 39 MPG both on the highway and in the city. The C-Max rated a combined 37 MPG in Consumer Reports’ test. Ford said both vehicles get 47 miles per gallon. CR called it “the largest discrepancy between our overall-mpg results and the estimates published by the EPA that we’ve seen among any current models.”

Hyundai’s failure to deliver published MPG ratings has brought new attention to the numbers. Ever since, there had been industry whispers that Hyundai is not the only case.

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46 Comments on “Fuel Fiasco MkII: EPA To Investigate Ford’s EPA Ratings...”


  • avatar
    Rday

    any company that lies/puts out bad data should have to reimburse their customers.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That is fair.

      However, I think Ford in this case designed a hybrid system that games the EPA test. So unlike Hyundai, their cars may actually score those mpg on the test, even if they are utterly unrealistic IRL.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Having driven the C-Max and owned the Prius, my hypothesis about how the gamed the test (possibly without malice) is as follows:
        1. The C-Max feels spirited when you drive it. The Prius’s ergonomics and NVH discourage you from spirited driving. The test cycle is driven likely driven by a machine that doesn’t seek exhilaration the way non-Prius driving Humans do.
        2. The C-Max can run on its electric motor a lot when going the 60ish speed required by the test, but won’t use the elelctric motor as much at the speeds most people actually drive.

        Lastly, the Prius has a number of sweet spots in terms of speed and MPG. It’s a subtle effect on the Prius, but I have picked exactly the wrong speed on more than one roadtrip. The effect could be less subtle on the C-Max.

        These aren’t my ideas – they’ve been scraped from blog comments and Prius fandom. But they do seem sufficient to explain the performance of Ford’s new hybrids without an overt attempt to cheat the public. I am eagerly awaiting the results of a real investigation, especially because I liked the C-Max a lot when I drove it. But it’s got to beat my Priua fair and square.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I think you may have a good bit of it, the test is done at a specified rate of acceleration. I found the C-Max to feel zippier but it is no sports car and doesn’t “egg you on” in any way. It just doesn’t actively discourage spirited driving the way the Prius does.

        But ultimately, when you are talking +/- 40mpg, a few mpg either way is rounding error. It just doesn’t matter. 5mpg on a car that gets 15mpg is significant, but 5mpg or so at 40 doesn’t make much difference. I drove the C-Max all over Atlanta for three days on <$5 in gas. The Prius might have saved me $.50. Buy the one you like better. I certainly could argue it either way, the cars are very different despite being similar on paper. The Prius-V is probably the better choice for my Mom (it is MUCH cheaper, and quite a bit bigger), the C-Max would be a better fit for me (much more premium inside, nicer to drive, I can afford the extra $$$). Either one uses very little gas.

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    Agreed liars should be exposed. But what if they are both right? Ford numbers conform to the test – and CR’s numbers are “real world”?

    • 0 avatar
      chrishs2000

      Exactly. The issue is the ridiculous EPA test schedule and all of the fudge factors incorporated theirin to output “REAL WORLD FUEL ECONOMY”. With an automatic transmission, it’s not very difficult to game the test.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        You would be sickened to see the payroll of all of the direct employees, consulting firms and management involved in the benchmarking game. This stupidity wouldn’t be present if we didn’t have a nanny-state built up by the same idiots who complain about gaming the system they require to make their lives ‘easier.’

        Complaining about a baby-sitter you picked out, pay for and rely on is pure stupidty (not directed at you, chrishs200).

      • 0 avatar
        Thinkin...

        Woah there. Before spewing vitriol about the EPA test, how about you propose a better fuel economy standard. Because from what I’ve seen, the current EPA test cycle is far more representative of real world driving than, say, the Japanese or British models.

        It’s easy to bash something that you don’t know anything about. FWIW, I think the EPA has done a reasonably decent job in keeping up with the times via changes to the testing parameters every few years.

        The only aspect of the EPA test that I don’t understand or agree with, is that they only test 18% of new cars, and then just let the manufacturer do the testing on everything else. If the EPA simply tested all new vehicles/powertrains, then we wouldn’t have to worry about manufacturers fudging at all. Perhaps Consumer Reports could donate their (independently purchased) test cars to the EPA when they’re finished!

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Thinkin…

        You are correct. The EPA tests are just fine, especially since what matters is not that they correlate to real world, but rather they are consistent across models so that consumers can compare apples to apples.

        As for myself, what I would prefer to have is the EPA city rating, the weight of the car, and the plot of steady state mpg as a function of speed.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Agreed.

      I’d like to see mfrs introduce two tags – one that states the EPA numbers, and another that states ‘real world’ numbers. Then the public could see how bogus the EPA tests are.

      I’m sure you can get EPA numbers on a car if you drive according to their protocols.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I thought the EPOA figures had been reasonably (+/- 5% say) accurate, with the largest discrepancies CR found all being hybrids including the Prius and Prius C at # 3 and 4. The C-Max was #2, so this could be a hybrid thing – although the new Avalon hybrid seems to get EPA and real world figures aligned (as per Edmunds recent test).

      • 0 avatar
        crm114

        Get rid of the tests entirely. If people want fuel economy ratings they can get them from CR or elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        OK- how would that ‘real world’ number be achieved? Let’s face it- no test is going to be 100% predictive. The key is consistency. The 2008+ EPA test protocol is just about as consistent and vigorous as you could get.

        What is needed now is not another test protocol, but an independent party (or the EPA) which will tests all the cars instead of relying on the manufacturers to self report.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I think there are two issues. The first is that on board energy storage (such as a non-plug-in hybrid) allow you to shift where you use that on board energy. On a short test, like the EPA city test, you can front load that energy on the test and make a meaningful impact to your rating. IMO, hybrids should be tested over a longer cycle to prevent this from happening.

        Second, the tests fit very specific driving styles… that don’t match too many peoples’ driving cycles. I think that there should be maybe 5 cycles that cover your bumper to bumper, stop-and-go from 0 to 45mph, 65mph steady state interstate, 80mph steady state interstate, and some other mixed cycle to cover what is left.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @icemilkcoffee: I agree that the 2008+ tests are better than before, but nobody can say that a ‘highway’ test which averages 48 mph is anywhere close to reality.

        Heck, Edmunds.com routinely drives cars in desert mountains at 100 F at 75 mph, and then has the nerve to complain about poor fuel economy. I’m not saying that should be the ‘real world’ test, but people need to know that their complaints may hold no water.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        The EPA tests are needed for the CAFE rules, fine.. but dont allow anyone to use them in advertisements.. many people have demonstrated (included here) over the years that they dont understand how to use those numbers.. If you need advice on what car to buy then buy a CR magazine.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    You doctor EPA figures to boost sales in an economy where people use them as critical selection criteria. People may actually pick one car over another over a fuel sticker–this really matters and if that piece of paper is as much of a lie as everything else you encounter at a dealership… we’ve reached an age where the BS goes all the way up to the top.

    When a car then dismally fails to get anywhere near those numbers, you hide behnd “real world figures may vary” mountain of legal statements. When the government comes a-knockin’ you blame bad statistics or some other “it was an honest mistake that we used as a cornerstone of our entire ad campaigh–could have happened to anyone” nonsense, give customers a gift card for 20 bucks gas (about a gallon), and go back to lying.

    The world where you get EPA figures doesn’t exist, so why do we still use it to get economy values for cars? I’m guessing it’s more of the political BS of CAFE and its reprocussions where all manufacturers need to have X amount of cars over Y MPG–but gaming the system to screw customers over is a new low.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      “The world where you get EPA figures doesn’t exist”

      Not true at all. Most Hondas and Toyotas and Mazdas routinely meet or beat their EPA numbers. My Subaru Outback gets pretty much exactly what the EPA rating says. So does my Scion.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I have never failed to get EPA numbers, especially hwy. Every car I’ve owned (and I have yet to own a post-2008 model), rented, or borrowed has passed this test.

      OTOH, I can’t say that about CAFE numbers. I don’t know how those are calculated.

  • avatar
    Pete K

    The EPA testing parameters are fine provided automakers are honest…I wouldn’t want to take the risk of being too optimistic about what consumers will be able to achieve. In the past some automakers have sandbagged their estimates so that owners would have no issue achieving and often-times exceeding said estimates…I’ve never had an issue vastly exceeding EPA estimates if I feel so inclined to drive with efficiency in mind.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      I am averaging about 10% better than EPA average for my car. But it really depends on your driving patterns: I am rarely in heavy stop-and-go traffic, and my commute to work is mostly at moderate highway speeds (90 to 110 km/h), which contributes to the efficiency.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I am shocked Shocked I say to hear this about a car co stating at best a half truth

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Physics alone tells you that there is no way in Hell a C-max is going to beat a Prius-V in the real world. It is much heavier, much more powerful, and has essentially an identically engineered drivetrain. And reality bears this out. I had one for a rental last weekend, in Atlanta. In conditions that should have been MORE favorable to a hybrid, I got 38mpg with it. Under less favorable conditions, my Mom is getting 45mpg out of her Prius-V. And I can garantee I am FAR more aware of how to drive to eek out the mileage of a hybrid than she is, she just drives the car like any other car, and she has a pretty leaden foot to boot.

    On the other hand, I LOVED the C-max! It is a genuinely nice car, by far the best driving hybrid, and I could actually see myself owning one. It is a shame they are going to get tarnished by this.

    • 0 avatar
      Herm

      even if you have a leaden foot you cant abuse a Prius V.. but a C-max you can and there goes the milege!

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Similar hybrid systems from a functional standpoint, but there are some key differences.

      The C-Max uses a Li-Ion battery while the Prius uses a NiMh, and I believe the C-Max has a larger capacity battery as well.

      The C-Max also has two features ‘EcoCruise’ and ‘EV+’ mode that will do a lot to help mileage if you turn them on. ‘EV+’ mode in particular can do a lot, bur you have to activate it and then drive the car for a while so that it learns your common destinations for where it can stretch the EV only range.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I had both features on, though obviously I did not have the car long enough for ecocruise to matter. It was impressive how much time the car spent in ev mode, even at 70 on the highway. But the fact remains that I was driving it in a manner and environment that should have resulted in the best mpg it could do, and I got 38mpg. I am quite certain I would have gotten at least 45 out of the Prius-V, considering that is what my Mom has gotten out of every single tank while paying no attention at all as to how to drive the car for maximum mpg. Who knows may e I would get 50+ out of her car.

        But still, if it was my money I would buy the Ford anyway, it is a much nicer car and MUCH nicer to drive. Too bad they were not more available when she bought her car.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Over at a Ford forum they were jumping for joy after the “lying Koreans” were exposed. The reaction over there is going to be interesting.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    I love Ford, however I feel that VW does it right. They promise about 43 mpg hwy for the Passat TDI and in alot of real world driving (friends of mine) it has gotten consistently 50-55 mpg on the hwy. Mazda has been good at giving what they promise. Their newer vehicles state a certain MPG and I have seen where they deliver just that. I am hoping that the Mazda 6 diesels do what VW has done.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    I assume that the big difference would come from the battery being fully charged at the begining of the test and fairly low by the end. This would give a great first-trip result and then people would start to see the high thirties in multi-trip averages after that.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Very good thinking. That’s probably how Ford cheated. They get the freshest, best battery picked out, and then charge that battery fully under the best ideal temperature and then ran the test while ducting cold air to the battery the whole time.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I have heard that the way Ford acomplished the numbers was by having the electric motor engaged up to higher speeds than the Prius. With initially charged batteries & over a short driving cycle, that would give the false impression that the car is more efficient.

        Perhaps a solution for testing hybrids is to perform the tests with initially discharged batteries. Then, at best you would see the true engine efficiency and at worst, the results would be lower as the engine would recharge thebatteries.

  • avatar
    Herm

    Nope, the EPA accounts for that.. the reason for the good results is that the engine runs at high power levels, recharges the battery and shuts off.. it may do a full cycle test run (10-11 minutes) with only a couple of minutes of engine time by running on the stored power and motors. You cant do that with nimh batteries because they are in-efficient but lithium changes all that, 99% efficient storing power.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I wonder if (A) CR used EcoCruise or EV+; (B) if they were used as directed; or (C) they were used long enough for the car to learn and adapt to the driving styles.

    Even if the answer to all three is “No”, getting 8MPG less than estimated by the manufacturer in city and highway driving and 10MPG less in combined is a troubling issue.

    Much to the distress of Hyundai and Fords’ marketing departments, we’re entering the age where proviso-laced small print isn’t enough to quell accusations of exaggeration…or lying.

    In other words, covering all the legal bases isn’t the same as ensuring the customer trusts the big numbers you advertise as readily achievable.

    People consider MPG a feature in their car – NOT a rough estimate – and if that feature doesn’t deliver pretty close to what they thought they were “promised”, they’ll want their money back.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    If CR continues to bash Ford, Mullaly is gonna cancel his subscription.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Ponder this. Imagine having people working off their community service driving average cars to determine their real world MPG. The same government agency would accept bids to let someone drive a performance car and establish it’s MPG. Or an average car that someone is interested in. The government takes in money from the bids and you get to drive your dream/desired car through a couple of tanks of gas. It would be popular and make sense; the government won’t do it.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Just let some yahoo drive the cars? Wouldn’t that be totally and completely unrepeatable and inconsistent?

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      It has to be standardized to be meaningful, which is not going to happen with people bidding on certain cars.

      CR does have people driving standardized routes at specified speeds, so their test is similar, but their numbers wouldn’t mean much if untrained people off the streets were to do it.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I am looking forward to the resolution of this.

    It may be that Ford is exonerated by the EPA, not that it will change the real world figures. Fact is Hyundia “made a mistake” in their calculations of the effects of aerodynamics on the EPA test cycle which is performed on a dyno.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Will there be any investigation into the Toyota hybrids since two of the top four listed by CR were Toyota’s. I won`t hold my breath for an article about that from BS.

    • 0 avatar
      sunridge place

      Ding Ding Ding..we have a winner.

      Well, sort of.

      The problem is with the way the EPA handles hybrid testing perhaps?

      They also need to fix their way of testing and giving credit to Stop/Start systems.

      Consumer Reports agrees…see the second to last paragraph:

      http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2012/06/stop-idling-stop-start-systems-have-great-promise-for-saving-fuel.html

  • avatar
    Loser

    Automakers overstating their MPG’s? This new trend is unbelievable! My god what’s next, politicians that lie?

    • 0 avatar
      Ar-Pharazon

      That makes me wonder about something . . .

      What is the correlation between

      * The commenters who would like to crucify a manufacturer for calibrating a vehicle to supposedly “game” the test and optimize their results on a government mandated fuel economy measurement
      * Those who defend a certain US Presidential candidate who “games” the tax code to minimize his tax bill?

      I would venture that many who may call out the former give an enthusiastic pass to the latter . . .

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    One of the big problems with the EPA test is that they measure the emissions from the tailpipe as part of the spec. How this works I have no idea but obviously they have gotten it to work… for regular gas engines. Once you go to hybrids and small diesels it falls apart and that’s why there are so many discrepancies.


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