By on May 8, 2019

2019 Ford Ranger at MAP - Image: Ford

The new Ford Ranger only went on sale in January, but the midsize pickup is already the focus of a class-action lawsuit. The complaint, filed earlier this week, alleges the Blue Oval “deliberately miscalculated and misrepresented factors used in vehicle certification testing in order to report that its vehicles used less fuel and emitted less pollution than they actually did.”

Them’s fightin’ words, especially in the post-Dieselgate era. It also doesn’t help that Ford was forced to lower its fuel economy ratings on six models and dole out compensation to their drivers about five years ago. Is it deja vu all over again? Well, not quite.

Back then, the world had yet to learn of Volkswagen’s emissions shenanigans, meaning that the revision of an mpg label and any subsequent compensation wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been. You’ll recall that other automakers have been dinged in the past for similar offenses. This time, with all hands hyper-vigilant for potentially nefarious activity, this stuff suddenly becomes front page news.

One more thing: the firm representing this suit against Ford? Yeah, it’s the same one that was the first in America to file against VW for its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

The certification tests suspected of being conducted improperly are the Coast Down testing and Road Load calculations. The former measures forces working against a vehicle by driving it up to speed, and then shifting to neutral, allowing it to coast down – hence the name of the test. It simulates the vehicle being slowed by forces such as wind resistance, tire rolling resistance, and other elements working against the vehicle. This complaint suggests Ford miscalculated the so-called “Road Load,” a measure of those forces.

This measure of forces acting against a vehicle during real-world driving is important in the simulation of actual driving when a vehicle is tested inside a lab. It is alleged Ford’s internal tests did not account for these forces, which lead to better-than-expected fuel economy projections. It could also produce claims that the vehicles emit less pollution than they do in reality.

Since the Glass House widely touted the new Ranger as the “most fuel efficient gas-powered midsize pickup in America,” the legal team is also pointedly saying Ford’s marketing is the subject of misconduct, as well.

In an interesting move, the document specifically cites a test performed by knowledgeable truck guy Andre Smirnov at TFL Truck, one in which he reported a significant difference between advertised and real-world mileage. Interestingly, the filing also cites a Car and Driver review of the 2019 F-150, in which the magazine reported an “anticlimactic 4 mpg below its EPA rating,” potentially dragging the best-selling pickup into this, too.

For its part, Ford opened an investigation into this issue back in February, hiring an outside firm to look into the matter. The feds soon opened their own probe into the potential issue. Reports at the time said officials at Ford were alerted to possible problems by “a handful of employees” through internal reporting channels.

[Image: Ford]

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37 Comments on “Fuelin’ Around: Ford Facing Legal Fracas Over Efficiency Claims...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    Oh look, it’s Hagens Berman again. Big surprise there.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Wow, a “significant difference” between advertised and real-world mileage! That should be thrown out in every court in the land, since only EPA mileage may be advertised, the automakers have no choice. That mandated EPA driving cycle is so far removed from typical everyday driving that “real-world” mileage is ALWAYS going to be different.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      EPA test cycle question.
      Now- dont they use 100 % gas – no evil ethanol for test cycle???
      (IE- significantly lower mpg when using evil ethanol over gas. E10= 5% lower MPG than E 0 )
      Pretty sure they used to.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yes the test must be done using 100% pure unadulterated gasoline. So yeah like 90% of the US population is never going to use the same type of fuel as used in the official tests which can account for up to a 10% reduction in fuel economy.

        • 0 avatar
          285exp

          E10 has on average about 3.3% less energy content than E0, so any reasonably modern vehicle is going to get around 3.3% less fuel economy, there’s nothing special about ethanol that would make it any less efficient than that, certainly nowhere close to 10%.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Actually it depends on the vehicle and the exact tuning of how the adapt to the fuel. There has been extensive testing of lots of different vehicles and how they behaved on the EPA test cycle with different ethanol content. Some cars have a barely noticeable difference while other showed up to a ~10% loss.

          • 0 avatar
            285exp

            Scoutdude,

            I’d love to see some of this extensive testing that shows any vehicle built in the last 20 years that had close to a 10% loss in fuel economy due to E10.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      The EPA cycle maybe be far removed from your everyday driving, but it’s better than any cycle I’m aware of. Asian and European cycles tend to provide even higher numbers.

      Interestingly, the EPA says my Ford should get 21mpg in mixed driving, lowered from the earlier claim of 23mpg. Yet, I manage 27mpg in mixed driving in the land of E15.

      YMMV.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    While I don’t dispute that turbocharged engines are quite a bit more sensitive to driver input than naturally aspirated ones, Car & Driver’s fuel economy results aren’t of much use unless you’re 17, and just borrowed your parents’ car.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      (wistfully staring into the distance and remembering that time he “caught air” in an Iron Duke Celebrity…)

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      It really is hard to keep off the boost with a small 4-cyl engine. The only way in my turbo’d MINIs to have any sense of power (or just keeping up with traffic when the light turned green) was to dip into the power. Otherwise the car felt like a slug.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        While I don’t disagree, in my own little anecdotal experience, I had a pair of Malibu rentals about a month ago. Driving around suburban Florida, I averaged roughly 30mpg (verified by display and on fill-up). C&D’s test of the same 1.5T did just 23.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Wait until these guys find out the Ranger was 7 mpg below its 22 mpg combined rating (5 mpg below the city rating) on C&D’s latest comparison test!

      The Colorado was 4 mpg below its 19 mpg rating, while the Ridgeline was 6 mpg below its 21 mpg rating.

      So they all came in at 15 mpg, and they all weigh about the same. The heavier Gladiator scored 14 mpg compared to a 19 mpg rating.

      As usual, the observed fuel economy corresponded more closely with curb weight than EPA ratings.

      https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/comparison-test/a27273790/2019-ford-ranger-vs-jeep-gladiator-chevrolet-colorado-honda-ridgeline/

      It’s certainly not an uncommon result for Car and Driver’s observed fuel economy to fall below the EPA ratings. Especially for trucks and SUVs. Often they’ll hit at least the city rating with a set of cars though.

      I doubt Ford was cheating here. The superior EPA cycle efficiency of a small turbo engine can only be realized if you don’t use the turbo.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    This will be very fun to watch. Now the F-150 is involved? Ford you screwed up (yet again) only this time, rather than involving the C-Max and MKFusion (among others) you put your trucks in jeopardy. The only thing keeping you afloat.

    This really isn’t surprising though. We have known for almost a decade that the EgoBust engines like to drink fuel. There is nothing “Eco” about them…sometimes getting worse mileage than 6.2L V8s.

    It’s nice to see Ford finally being held accountable for their deliberate and willful attempts to take advantage of people.

    • 0 avatar
      1500cc

      But it won’t make any difference (aside from potential fines). As we saw with VW, the buying public had no trouble elevating VW to the largest automaker in the world despite Dieselgate. Similarly I’m sure there’ll be no noticeable effect on any of Ford’s sales.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Ford gets a pass on this stuff all too often. The 2.0L ecoboost has to be one of the worst offenders

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @EBFlex: Just like the old 4-bbl carbs, you have to have sense enough to stay out of the turbo once you’re at speed. The turbo is just to get you moving and you can get away with cruising at a far lower hp rating and thus save fuel.

      But then, once you have that power available, how easy is it to discipline yourself to hold your speed down?
      I use cruise control to manage my speed because it was simply too easy to just keep pushing the throttle as you got used to a certain level of G-forces on your back.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      And let’s not forget Hyundai got caught telling lies about both MPG and horsepower. But those were non-turbo fours of meaty size.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Still better I’m sure than a “TRIPOWER” Silverado in the real world.

    Amirite?

  • avatar

    I forget, are the #s from self testing or under the control of an impartial referee?

    I thought in some cases the manufacturer was able to present the #s to the government with government acceptance.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It is self testing per the EPA procedures, with the EPA doing random checks of some models and targeted checks in specific cases.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks. Be interesting to know whether this was one of those situations.
        I would think at a minimum that new chassis/engine combo would have the EPA directly involved.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The problem is I don’t think that it has been the norm for the EPA to do the coast down test and road load calculations and when they do their random or targeted check they just program the dyno with the mfg supplied drag calculations.

          The issue at hand is whether they have been doing the coast down tests and road load calculations by the standard or if they have been fudging those test results or calculations.

          Several years ago when Hyundai had to change its MPG numbers they claimed it was due to a “mistake” in the road load calculations.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @Scoutdude: I believe the EPA does ‘road load’ testing by driving a known course on city streets and highways, using separate readings for each portion and an overall reading for ‘Combined’ rating. Most of the OEMs use a dyno and calculate the road load, which should give similar numbers IF the ‘road load’ number is correct.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The way the EPA test works is that it is all done on a dyno so that the exhaust can all be collected in big bags. The setting on the dyno and the highly prescribed acceleration and deceleration rates, speeds, and length of stops were based on a real world drive that took place in 1970s LA. They picked out a course, had it driven a number of times by a number of people and created and used that data to determine the prescribed drive cycles. The Road Load is a setting on the dyno and the specific setting is based on calculations derived from highly specific coast down tests.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I trust the EPA like I do politicians. They have my 2.5 Impala LT rated at only 30 for 2018/2019 model years on the highway, a figure I routinely beat by up to 6.5 MPG going 75 MPH! Other rental vehicles like a 2019 Dodge Ram fell short of it’s highway figure of 22 by 3 MPG on the exact same loops I drive with every one of my vehicles. A 2018 rental Elantra SE which was rated for 38 highway exceeded that figure by 5 MPG and a 2017 Ford Fusion SE 2.5 barely got what the sticker said or 21/32. I see for 2019 the base Fusion S with the 2.5 has been lowered again to only 31 highway. I could go on and on but in short I take the window stickers with a grain of salt and a good laugh sometimes.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I remain perplexed that current practice does NOT include EPA directing..or doing, its own instrumented testing, and those “objective” results being publicly released.

    I don’t understand why each manufacturer is responsible for testing their own products. Let a disinterested third party do ALL the testing for ALL the manufacturers!

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      For the EPA to do that, they would have to, like, pay employees. And maintain test facilities. That takes money.

      Also, the automakers would probably find it quite onerous to have to wait for someone else to do the testing. How many versions would Ford have to send to the EPA, and at what stage of development? And what if Ford submitted a vehicle and got a bad result? That might result in big delays in introducing a new model.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        yes, yes, and yes…but if “EPA Fuel Economy” estimates are to be considered meaningful, the testing procedure must be executed in the exact same manner, for every single vehicle. That Ford does the test “their” way, and Hyundai did the test “their” way…well, this means the testing protocol is insufficient….and yet the manufacturers are on the hook for million$ in damages…just doesn’t make sense to me.

        A neutral third party tester seems the only logical approach.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Back in the day, Car & Driver used to actually measure the coast-down performance of the vehicles they tested. They called the statistic “road horsepower”. Obviously, this would depend on the drivetrain of the car, but also the specific tires and styling additions for the trim level.

    Compare the measurements for the GMC Typhoon:
    http://sportmachines.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Car-Driver-3-92.pdf

    With the Toyota Camry:
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/amv-prod-cad-assets/files/1987-toyota-camry1987-toyota-camry-specs-jun-1987-1.pdf

    Or the Ford Probe (transcribed article, not scanned):
    https://www.scpoc.com/MaintMod/Probe%20Articles/CD-article.htm

    “European Car” apparently used to state road horsepower at 50 mph, and somehow they separated the friction & tire losses from aerodynamic drag. Did they do dyno testing, or did they calculate backwards based on the manufacturer’s stated Cd number?
    http://www.merkurtech.com/merkurtech/magarticles/mxspec.php

    Car and Driver used to state this statistic until at least the mid-90s (probably when Csaba Csere uglified the magazine).

    I read through the complaint, and it seems to be relatively short on evidence, in fact relying on blog postings (TFLTruck?) as evidence. It seems more like an attempt to start the government fishing for malfeasance, than an actual case in itself.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    So Ford is essentially accused of fudging aero and friction losses for different body styles but same drivetrain. This was reported elsewhere months ago. Hyundai pulled off the same maneuver five years ago, got caught and owners got rebate checks for the overconsumption of fuel. It’s so easy to change a couple of constants/signs in a computer fuel consumption model that few can resist gilding the lily now and then. “Oops, honest error, your Honor. We subtracted the headwind factor instead of adding it, and advertised downwind results instead. Our deepest and most sincere apologies.”

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Ford mislead customers around 2012 with the C-Max and Fusion hybrids and their Lincoln rebadges. Same deal here only it impacts the F-150 too which could mean a massive payout for customers.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        IIRC I got not one but two MPG rebate checks from Ford in my five years of C-Max ownership. A modest compensation for the horrifying resale value, I suppose.


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