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Ford Reduces Fuel Economy Ratings of C-Max Hybrid

Ford announced this month that it will lower the fuel economy rating on its C-Max Hybrid. The C-Max had been marketed as a 47-mpg crossover, blending generous cargo space and fuel economy in a new way. But in real-world driving, the vehicle fell significantly short of those claims. Consumer Reports found that the C-Max yielded 37 mpg in its tests. Buyers throughout the country complained on message boards about disappointing mileage.

Some wondered if Ford gamed the system to beat the EPA’s testing procedure. As it turns out, Ford played by the rules, but the federal guidelines—even when carefully followed—can lead to misleading numbers.

Under a rule that allows carmakers to skip testing vehicles that share a common powertrain, Ford simply applied the same fuel economy rating given to its Fusion Hybrid sedan to the C-Max. Since both cars use the same gas-electric system, this is perfectly fine under the EPA’s testing regime. But where the rubber hits the road, the two cars perform differently, in part due to differences in car body shapes and related aerodynamics.

Ford is implementing a change in software for the 2013 and 2014 editions of the C-Max that will bump up its adjusted fuel economy performance from 41 mpg combined, to 43 mpg. This will be achieved by allowing the car to drive on battery power alone at higher speeds, and by tweaking the formula that opens and closes the engine vents to decrease drag.

The roughly 32,000 consumers who purchased or leased the 2013 C-Max can also expect some relief in the form of a rebate to compensate for mileage discrepancies. Owners will receive a check for $550, while lessees can expect $325.

This isn’t the first time that a carmaker has faced legal action over mileage numbers. Last year, Honda finalized a settlement under which the company would issue one-time payments of up to $200 to owners of 2003-2009 model year Civic Hybrids—which failed to live up to efficiency figures on window stickers. Hyundai and Kia set aside more than $225 million last year for overstated efficiency numbers on most of its vehicles.

The takeaway from these stories is this reminder: your mileage can and will vary depending upon how you use your car. Unless the test rules change, car shoppers should consider researching how many miles other drivers are getting from each gallon of gas—before finalizing a purchase.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.