By on May 2, 2014

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The Federal Trade Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to resume its review of fuel economy claims in advertising by automakers and dealers, and whether or not the agency should revise the 40-year-old guidelines governing them.

The Detroit News reports the FTC had been considering making changes to the Guide Concerning Fuel Economy Advertising for New Automobiles since 2009 to help “marketers avoid deceptive or unfair claims” such as those that befell Hyundai, Kia and Ford over the past few years. The agency paused in 2011 until after the Environmental Protection Agency’s new fuel economy labeling requirements were in place, as well as to look over its own Alternative Fuel Rule.

The FTC plans to go over general and unspecified fuel economy claims in advertising, as well as define Combined Fuel Economy for electric vehicles, all in an effort to remove outdated language and establish clearer information on advertised economy going forward. It is currently asking for comments on updates to reflect the new EPA guidelines and MPG claims, and the need for guidance on alternative fuel vehicle claims. The comments are due by July 10.

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55 Comments on “FTC Resumes Review Of Fuel Economy Advertising Guidelines...”


  • avatar

    More and more cars have 6, 7 8 and even 9-speed transmissions.
    Can someone please explain to me how they can advertise high MPG for a vehicle if it can only achieve highest fuel economy (or posted fuel economy) when moving at highway speeds or illegal speeds???

    Not everyone’s work day consists of driving highway speeds to/from work. More people end up sitting in traffic watching that tank of gas being wasted as heat.

    Wouldn’t we all be better off with cylinder deactivation, cars that can run on regular unleaded without knocking and start/stop technology that can be toggled on/off? I know I would!

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      That’s got to be one of the most coherent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking comments I’ve ever seen (heard?) from you. I’m sorry that I’d previously written you off as little better than a troll.

      • 0 avatar
        michal1980

        its not a coherent comment. The jeep 9spd i believe is the only car that has an ultra high gear for cruising >75mp. My former 6pd auto what in 6 at speeds are 50mph.

        These transmission manfuactures know what the game is, and what the mpg tests are. Therefor the 8 gears might occupy the same range as the previous 4 gears before.

        just to prove my point

        the zf 8 spd gear ratios

        4.70
        3.13
        2.10
        1.67
        1.29
        1.00
        0.84
        0.67

        The zf 6spd ratios

        4.17
        2.34
        1.52
        1.14
        0.87
        0.69

        http://www.zf.com/media/media/img_1/corporate/products/innovation/8hp/www_11_023884zfge_8HP_Produkt_EN.pdf

        http://www.zf.com/media/media/productfinder_media/cars/cars_driveline_6_speed_automatic_transmission/pdf_140/6HP26_DataSheet.pdf

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          It’s coherent in the sense that everything fits together and it doesn’t look like a drunk toddler banging at the keyboard.
          I never said “accurate,” or made any claims to the accuracy or inaccuracy of the statement.

      • 0 avatar
        old fart

        +1, wow I am impressed enough with Big truck to actually sign in to say so

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      The EPA test cycles don’t include “illegal speeds.” One of the benefits of multi-gear transmissions is that the engine can run in it’s “sweet spot” more of the time. The ECU continuously monitors torque request and selects the gear that will provide that torque at the highest efficiency. That wasn’t possible when there were only three gears.

      • 0 avatar

        I understand that, but what I’ve been seeing is cars that are programmed to jump to the highest possible gear to save fuel and only dip into lower gears when “Sport” mode is active.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          I’d rather have an autobox with decent programming than more gears.

          The modern automatics I have driven of late tick me off for the very reason you mention, BTSR

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Good luck. I fear we are getting autoboxes with more gears and the same crappy programming. I didn’t find the 9-speed in the 200 to be any better than the 6-speed in the Malibu.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            “One of the benefits of multi-gear transmissions is that the engine can run in it’s “sweet spot” more of the time.”

            The goal of the transmissions with the higher # of gears is to have a CVT minus the CVT stigma. The CVTs purpose is to keep the engine at its peak for the given speed.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            Automatics always tick me off.

            Do it right (CVT) or don’t do it at all (manual). I’m happy either way.

            That said, the step-shift automatic in my Sienna pisses me off less than most. My Escape was a fantastic bargain, but it wasn’t really worth putting up with the growly engine or rough 4-speed auto. I would have been happy with the same vehicle with a CVT or a manual.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Technically, if you drive the speeds used in the hwy test cycle through a school zone, that’s illegal, so the idea that you can report only the hwy efficiency (let’s say 40 mpg) when the car will likely be stuck in bumper-to-bumper crawling through a city–no, there’s no way to meet that.

        I somewhat wonder about the ‘sweet spot’ notion. It seems transmissions shift to make the engine run in the lowest rpm possible, which is not what I would call the “sweet spot.” But that makes me wonder just how much of a benefit the extra gears really make on the EPA test cycles–does squeezing in another ratio to keep the rpm down when driving in start-and-stop traffic make a noticeable difference?

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    I see the 2014 Accord hybrid advertising 47 MPG combined and the ‘fuelly’ average about 41…

  • avatar
    thornmark

    I read recently that fuel economy is the highest ranked consideration when purchasing a new vehicle.

    e.g. we’ve seen how the Equinox took off w/ claims no one seems to be able replicate in real life, in fact the Equinox tends to be at the bottom rather the top of its class when tested professionally.

    We’ve also seen how the Ford C-Max sales stalled when it was forced to change its aggressive mpg claims.

    So, yes something does need to be done. Perhaps bigger disclaimers as to the achievability of such figures since the high stakes seems to lead to efforts to game the test.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I’d agree, something different needs to be done. City, Highway, and averaging those numbers for combined isn’t very applicable to most drivers. The EPA loops are also not very good in the day and age of 8speed ATs, variale displacement, etc. I’d even argue that using MPG as your units is fundamentally wrong* and you should use gal/100mi as the incremental improvements have a direct relationship with cost savings rather than cost savings decaying as the MPG pushes higher. We’d like to think that people would sit down, do the math, and understand that, but you know that isn’t the case.

      * Say someone has a truck rated at 20mpg and they are getting 18mpg. Someone else has a compact rated at 40mpg and they are getting 36mpg. The truck driver will look at it as just natural variance while the compact driver sees it as the automaker lied to them. In reality, the truck driver pays $266 more per year by missing their rating by 2mpg. The compact driver only pays $133 more per year by missing their rating by 4mpg. The truck owner is paying a more by missing their rating by 2mpg than the compact owner is by missing their rating by 4mpg. Using gal/100 mi, when you are getting 5.5gal/100mi versus the 5.0 rating, it is clear you are using an extra half gallon every 100mi in the truck. In the sedan, it is clear you are using an extra quarter of a gallon over that 100mi if you use 2.5gal/100mi rating and 2.7gal/100mi actual.

      • 0 avatar
        VCplayer

        This. So much this.

        Buyers get way too bothered by small differences in MPG numbers on high MPG vehicles that have almost no real meaning when you actually do the math.

        The fact that C-Max sales appear to have been hurt by the revised fuel economy claims shows that a lot of people simply do not understand what they numbers mean.

        Or they’re easily insulted by false claims, which probably includes a number of posters here. Still, when you’re buying a new car it’s a silly thing to quibble over.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Or it proves that the C-Max is like just about every other new vehicle ever introduced. Some people hear that it is coming so they delay their purchase until it is available. Others are enamored with it and but a new car as soon as they find out their new object of desire. Then as the newness wears off the sales drop down. This pattern goes all the way back to the original Mustang.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          I think this would be a major improvement over what is already out there. My car runs anywhere from 27-29 combined during the winter and 33-37 during the summer. While the numbers look mildly bad the actual difference is peanuts.

          I frequent a website with a fuel economy thread and posted my last mileage total in g/100miles. It totally confused many of the users.

          “Between both cars I’ve been using 4.37 gallons per 100 miles.

          22.88 mpg for you US types.” was my last posting in the thread. It got a few chuckles once people figured it out.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        It’s mostly because the average truck buyer doesn’t find himself agonizing over those 2 MPG because it’s “just” 2 MPG. Every truck buyer I’ve ever talked to (and there are more than a few in MN) has said he would give up 2 MPG for 4×4 capability he’d seldom use, or other accessories.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I disagree. I think the EPA city number is very useful, but advertising the hwy by itself is deceptive and should cease.

        I also completely disagree about mpg as a unit. If any of that reasoning was valid, we shouldn’t use mph as a unit for speed (going 10 mph instead of 5 mph will get you there in half the time, but going 75 mph instead of 70 mph shaves off only <7% of your time.)

        What it boils down to is: Can we rely on people doing division? If the answer is "no," then God help us all.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Almost all, if not all, hybrids have been down this year. The C-max drop is a receipe that includes the MPG rating drop, hybrids being down overall, the first few months of sales filling pre-orders/pent up demand, and the C-Max competing with the Focus hatchback and Escape. I think the last reason is significant. The rebates on the Focus and Escape are much higher than the C-Max and the lease prices are better.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting question.
        Are hybrid sales down because the market has been saturated or has there been enough owner experience to call into question economic feasibility of hybrids?

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          Nearly 10 years of Prius ownership experience has been a win for us.

          Your claims of dubiousness don’t reflect our ownership experience. Of course, a big part of the win of owning the Prius is that it’s reliable AND efficient – but that’s what’s sitting in the driveway, so there’s little sense in separating the two. It’s a practical little hatchback, so its not the vehicle for every occasion – but it is very good at what it’s supposed to do.

          The problem with every other hybrid is that the Prius is a pretty high bar to beat. Assuming that you value the things that make a hybrid in the first place…

          My driveway has two slots. One is the efficient commuter car, which is currently occupied by a Prius. The other slot is a vehicle that can move heavy objects and do some light towing, which is currently occupied by a Sienna.

          Now, the question is: which one does the C-Max compete with? It drives like the Sienna, and it’s sized like the Prius. It also has the towing capacity of the Prius (0lbs). So, it competes with the Prius. But, when you look at the spec sheet, it’s not as good as the Prius. So, the 10 year old Prius in the driveway wins.

          I’ve been meaning to go drive a C-Max Energi. The 20 mile electric range might be enough to make up for it’s lousy fuel economy (remember that my benchmark is a genuine Prius; it’s not comparable to the Sienna). But could I really justify spending 30 large to replace a car that isn’t better than the one in my driveway in every way? The Prius is so d*mn reliable, I probably have another 5-10 years to ponder that question.

          What will get me to buy a new hybrid? Either a car that’s actually better than the paid off and fantastically reliable Prius in my driveway (think Volt or C-Max that gets better gasoline MPGs than the Prius), or a segment buster (think hybrid-powered Sienna).

          That’s why the C-Max isn’t replacing those decade-old Prii, or finding themselves next to a Prius in hybrid-owning households.

          On top of the greens, geeks, and replacements (I can check all three boxes), the rest of the hybrid market seems to be people spooked about gas prices — the size of that group seems to correlate directly with gas-price hysteria in the news. At least that’s my impression – I’ll defer to someone with actual market research.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            Easy answer to that one. The cmax can win if the buyer who test drives both prefers the cmax’s driving experience more than the economic impact that they will experience based on the milage difference.

            If acheiving highest possible milage induces driving nirvana then the Prius gets the nod. But that’s not all that the vast majority of shoppers look for in a car, even if milage is a primary consideration.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I guess I must have been driving incorrectly for the past 35 years. Every Single Car I have ever owned has exceeded the advertised (and EPA) MPG figures.

    Current whip is an ’05 Scion xB/5MT The window sticker said 31/34. The “corrected” EPA figures say 27/31. The lowest I’ve ever seen (heat of summer, a/c full blast, traffic-y commute) was 33mpg. Gentle highway driving has occasionally netted 41mpg.

    I don’t know much about hybrids, but if I can consistently exceed rated mileage in a gas car, I have no need for a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      Is that you Norm?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I’ll swap you my ‘real’ xB for your ‘magic’ xB. I’m doing between 28 (lowest) and 32 (highest) in my daily commute, which is half 2-lane US highway and half 4 lane suburban commuting with traffic lights. I don’t hypermile, occasionally push the car on the back road in a manner like I normally drive my Solstice.

      Normal mileage is 31-32. Don’t have any idea about long haul interstate highway mileage because I consider the car too over-stressed and noisy for that kind of trip. In those cases, I rent a ‘C’ or ‘D’ class car.

      Oh yeah, it’s an ’05, has a manual transmission, and is unmodified.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      EPA numbers have nothing to do with real world measurements, nor are they supposed to, unless you are some weirdo who actually has a commute that matches one of their cycles.

      The EPA numbers are simply benchmarks so you can compare different cars in an apples-to-apples manner. They are nothing more than that. (The issues Hyundai and Ford have had were because their cars did not match their claimed performance against those test cycles. Ford copied-and-pasted from one car to another, too-different car, and Hyundai ‘miscalculated,’ i.e., lied, about their aerodynamic numbers.)

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Of course your cars of 10-35 years ago did better than the EPA said they would, because they were engineered in happier times when gas was cheap and mileage was something that went in the appendix of the brochure with the other important specifications like coolant capacity and lug patterns. As such there was no reason to tune for the treadmill.

      Try that with a modern car and get back to us.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The issue here is that the average person does not understand that the EPA figures on the window sticker are not, nor were really ever intended to be, a reflection of what a customer should expect to get from that vehicle. It is a comparison tool between vehicles. The EPA and manufacturers need to make as clear as possible that the window sticker numbers are not a guarantee.

    Only in the last 5 years have testing guidelines changed to try and better reflect what some owners will get to try and appease people who just can’t understand. The fundamental flaw even with the new test methods is that the average consumer drive cycle will never match the EPA cycle so YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      I read some time ago that the EPA allows manufacturers to do the testing PLUS the testing is done w/ real gasoline, not the lousy lower-energy ethanol-polluted hygroscopic stuff that we actually are forced to use.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Yes the testing is self-regulated according to the standards set forth. If they game it too much, like we saw with Hyundai and the Ford C-Max, then they get a little audit by the EPA.

        Could you imagine if consumers had to eat the cost of the EPA testing every single model? Ouch. Before anyone responds with, “Make the automakers pay for it!”, that is the same as making the customers pay for it.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          And the customers already do pay for it, though likely sign significantly less than they would if they had to feed more government bureaucracy.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            @Scoutdude,

            I make a lot more working for a private company than I did when I worked for the state. Same skills. Same work. Same tools. I cost more to employ in the private sector, and get comparable benefits. Just sayin’.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @ Luke I have no doubt that you earn more in the private sector but the problem with the govt is that they will need two guys working at 70-80% of your pay to do the same work you do. The gov’t has also show that they don’t know how to get value with then shop for supplies. Pretty much everyone has heard of the gov’t buying $200 hammers and $400 toilet seats.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yup official testing must be done with pure gasoline. Depending on exactly how the vehicle is tuned using E10 like many of us have to do can result in up to 10% loss of fuel economy. On the other hand you can tune the vehicle to do better than that on E10 but at the sacrifice of some MPG when operated on pure gas. So you could have a car that could show 40 mpg on pure gas and only get 36 mpg on E10 or a car that would show 39 mpg on pure gas and 37 mpg on E10. Of course the mfg chooses to maximize the pure gas mpg since that is what they must use on the test and the results of which they must report on the sticker.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The problem is that actual customer experience was much more likely to be worse than the published number instead of being evenly distributed either side of the comparison number.

      I would guess that a typical customer expects “highway” fuel economy to be miles per gallon at a steady 70 mph. Publishing results at a lower speed undervalues aerodynamics.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As I understand it the, EPA mileage numbers are the result of a test whose primary purpose is to determine emissions compliance not fuel economy. If I’m not mistaken there was no argument that Ford was violating any regulation by advertising the C-Max hybrid’s mileage that no one seemed to be able to achieve in real driving. So Ford just voluntarily reduced its mileage claim to avoid pissed off customers.

    There certain is a value in a uniform yardstick to be applied to all vehicles, but when the yardstick doesn’t reflect reality, it needs some work. This appears to be true mostly with hybrid vehicles, and is a real problem with PEVs like the Volt.

    All of the conventionally-powered vehicles I have owned — from sports cars to SUVs — have reasonably matched their EPA rating when my family has driven them, covering a period of say more than 20 years. And these include both manual and automatic transmission vehicles.

    So, I personally have no reason to complain about the test.

    Like others here, I think we should stop talking about miles per gallon; and talk about gallons per mile. I suspect one reason that car makers don’t want to do that is that it would reveal that most hybrids (not to mention diesels) provide a very small cost saving over a similarly-sized and powered ICE car, which would make them less attractive to consumers. Anybody do the math on the cost savings of the Honda Accord hybrid vs. the standard 4-cylinder Accord?

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    In Canada (also known as la la land), I just saw an advertisement that a Jeep Grand Cherokee gets 44 miles per gallon.

    Beat that eggsalad?

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      Possibly, if it’s a Diesel GC and we’re talking about Imperial Gallons.

    • 0 avatar
      Preludacris

      Stupid Imperial gallon. No Canadians use the oddball unit of measurement, except car dealers and OEMs. Why is it okay to sell cars this way? Regular American MPGs would be way better. As a country, we absorb enough American TV (commercials) and spend enough time traveling in and through the US that we generally understand, and think in, MPGs. As such, it’s not hard to impress us with numbers like 55 and 60 MPG plastered in vinyl across compact cars on dealer lots.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Just look the the CAFE numbers in the US. They’re just as wacky. (They are around 20% higher than the EPA hwy numbers.)

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    They need to make changes, I don’t recall how many folks have suggested I buy either a Hyundai or Kia cause they get 40 mpg, they believe the ads and the hype.

  • avatar
    plee

    I work part time as a driver at a large auto auction, usually work lanes with 3 year old to current Nissan products and Ford products. I push the fuel economy reading on the trip computers just to see what is there. I realize that this is random but I do not think that most people keep resetting their fuel mileage settings so the numbers have some credibility. These are lease turn ins and daily rental vehicles. Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape invariably show 21-25 mpg, Ford Explorer high teens, Ford Edge low 20,s, Taurus 19-22, C-Max high 30,s to low 40,s. Usually a Focus or Fiesta shows mid 30,s. Most Infiniti cars show high teens, QX 56 14 or 15mpg. My opinion is that only combined MPG numbers should be allowed in advertising, this would be much more indicative of what people could expect, not the ridiculous highway numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Sounds about right for the cars in the list that I’ve driven. That’s a fairly interesting perspective. I imagine that some of the readings are skewed slightly lower depending on how much time they’ve spent being shuffled in a holding yard or at an auction, but the figures seem in the ballpark.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      In the mid-80s car manufacturers were advertising highway MPG only under standards that were much more inflated than today. (Nobody got 40 MPG in a Chrysler K-car.) The FTC cracked down and made them either advertise both or the combined number, and that solved the problem for awhile. I don’t know what made them only advertise highway MPG again. (This doesn’t really apply to the C-Max controversy, because, pre-adjustment, highway and city were both 47.)

      Another area where we’ve backslid is lease advertising. They advertise the payment in big numbers, but other essential terms are either in small print or not in the advertisement at all. A one year lease at $199 a month, but with 2,400 down is effectively a $399/month lease.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    In the smaller vehicles I’ve owned I’ve had no problem reaching the “combined” mileage, but in the larger cars I’ve tended to have trouble. I’m not sure what this says about anything, but it has been my observation since I began driving (and tracking my mileage).

  • avatar
    redav

    I feel this is a serious issue and that the FTC should crack down on it. I hope that there is not only fines and public shaming, but also jail time any time an ad uses the term “Em-Pee-Gees.”

  • avatar
    05lgt

    MPG or l per 100km are both flawed by the assumption that all fuels are equal. Cars need the equivalent of an energyguide label allowing purchasers to compare fuel costs to operate without a spreadsheet. Ideally they could come up with 3 numbers for estimated annual fuel costs based on short commuter, mixed user, or highway cruiser. Someone who routinely drives SF to Redding isn’t going to get any use from a hybrid system. Premium costs more than regular. Diesel and kW really bugger mpg comparisons. Of course OEM’s will build to the standard if it gets used in purchasing decisions, so realistic assumptions on use and fuel costs are important.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Unless your hwy driving is all on perfectly flat ground there is a benefit to a hybrid on the freeway. Also the common hybrids can use an Atkinson cycle engine which is inherently more efficient at speed and w/o the boost of the hybrid system doesn’t give acceptable driveability. For proof just compare the MPG of the Prius to similar sized vehicles or hybrid vs ICE Camry, Highlander, Fusion, Jetta or Accord.


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