Ford Ready With Remedies for Controversial Hybrid Fuel Economy
- Ford is immediately instituting engineering changes for 2013 C-Max hybrid and 2013 Fusion Hybrid models to better align real-world fuel economy with official ratings.
- All the fixes are software-based and will be made free of charge.
- Ford also is making big investments in electrified-vehicle engineering personnel and facilities.
DEARBORN, Michigan — Still smarting from the fallout of pending class-action lawsuits alleging it overstated the fuel-sipping abilities of its hybrid-electric 2013 C-Max and 2013 Fusion, Ford Motor Co. executives told reporters late yesterday the company will immediately begin to institute a variety of engineering changes — all software-based — to address discrepancies between the real-world fuel economy of those vehicles and their official "label" fuel economy as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The enhancements, which also will be applied to the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, the mechanical twin to the Fusion Hybrid, will be offered free of charge to current owners of the 2013 models and will be built into all new 2014 models, said Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president for global product development. Nair said there are about 77,000 existing vehicles in the U.S. and Canada that are eligible for the upgrades, which Ford will have ready beginning in August.
In the spring, suits seeking class-action status in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California charged that Ford essentially saw to it that the C-Max hybrid and Fusion Hybrid earned higher official fuel economy ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency than the cars are able to achieve under real-world driving conditions. Both cars' fuel economy ratings are 47 mpg in the city and 47 mpg on the highway.
Without directly addressing the complaints, Ford's Nair last December said a variety of factors, chief among them being weather conditions and driver behavior, could have substantial adverse impact on fuel economy.
Yesterday, Nair detailed the engineering changes Ford will make to current owners' vehicles and to all new 2014 hybrid models, all of which, he said, will "reduce the variability" vehicle owners are experiencing in on-the-road fuel economy versus the cars' EPA rating.
He said the new software changes will: increase the maximum speed for electric-only drive from 62 mph to 85 mph; optimize the vehicles' active grille shutters that cut aerodynamic drag and speed engine warm-up; reduce the speed of the electric radiator cooling fan; reduce engine warm-up time by as much as 50 percent to more quickly enable all-electric driving and use of the engine's stop-start function; and optimize the automatic climate-control system to reduce energy use.
Nair stressed that the new upgrades will not change the vehicles' fuel economy ratings for 2014 (that would require re-certification), only more closely align real-world performance with the EPA ratings. "These are all software changes we're talking about," he added, saying the fixes can be done for owners of existing vehicles in a half-day or less. He also said the software upgrades, while aimed at boosting efficiency, "won't negatively affect vehicle performance.
"Just as individual mileage can vary based on driving styles and environmental conditions, we expect fuel economy improvements will differ from customer to customer depending on individual driving habits," Nair added. "Customers should see the most improvement at highway speeds, during air-conditioner use and operation in colder climates."
Other Ford sources said the company currently is in the process of sending letters informing current owners of the 2013 C-Max, Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid of the process, which Ford stressed is a voluntary action and not a mandated recall.
Ford also said it plans to expand its number of vehicle-electrification engineers by 50 percent and it will invest $50 million in electrified-vehicle product-development and testing facilities at its headquarters in Dearborn.
Edmunds says: Ford seems determined to try to take the sting out of some C-Max and Fusion Hybrid customers' fuel-economy disappointments. Whether the actions will keep the issue out of the courts remains to be seen.