Ford to Reprogram Regenerative Brake Controls on Fusion, Milan HybridsBy John O'Dell February 4, 2010
Company Says Not a Safety Issue, But Some Owners Complain of 'Different' Brake Feel
Ford Motor Co., hoping to avoid being tarred with the same brush that is blackening Toyota's reputation, said this afternoon that it is launching a proactive campaign to update the software controlling the regenerative braking system on most of the 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids it has sold.
The company has received "some reports that drivers have experienced a different brake feel when the hybrids' unique regenerative brakes switch to conventional hydraulic braking," Ford spokesman Said Deep said.
The company isn't calling it a recall and says there is no safety issue, but said it will ask owners of certain Fusion and Milan hybrids to bring their cars to a Ford dealership for the brake software update.
The company said the action affects all Ford and Mercury hybrids built before Oct. 17 - about 17,600 cars in all. Edmunds.com data shows that as of the end of January, 18,140 of the hybrids - mainly Fusions - had been sold.
Deep said that the brake systems on the two hybrids are not related to the brakes on Toyota hybrids, which have come under scrutiny for a slightly different complaint - apparent loss of braking power when the system switches from regenerative to hydraulic braking, especially when the brakes are applied on bumpy or slick surfaces.
Toyota said this afternoon that it is investigating the brake systems on all of its hybrids, an escalation from yesterday's announcement in Japan that it would investigate brakes on the 2010 Prius.
Separately, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched its own probe of Toyoyta Prius braking systems.
Ford's move seems aimed at mollifying drivers who might equate the often odd feel of the brake pedal action when regenerative braking is operating to a loss of braking control.
Deep insists that the Fusion and Milan hybrids "maintain full braking capability" when the system switches from regenerative to friction braking - even though some customers "may initially perceive the condition as loss of brakes."
Regenerative braking systems turn a hybrid's electric motor into a generator when the accelerator pedal is released and for part of the time that the brake pedal is being depressed. They use the motor's energy to generate electricity that is fed back into the hybrid's batteries. Regenration slows the car, but as brake pedal pressure increases, sensors switch it off and let the normal hydraulic braking system kick in to actually bring the vehicle to a stop.
Many drivers complain when they first experience regenerative braking that the vehicle's brake action feels odd - it's not a condition unique to Ford or Toyota.
In Toyota's case, however, the company says that in certain circumstances there can be a slight period in which brake force is reduced or eliminated when the system switches from regeneration to friction braking.
Ford appears to be saying that is not the case with its hybrids.
John O'Dell, Senior Editor