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Ford to fix fuel-economy shortfalls on C-Max, Fusion hybrids

Facing complaints about disappointing mileage, a software update may bring three of Ford's new hybrids, including the Lincoln MKZ, more up to par with the company's EPA estimates.

By Clifford Atiyeh Jul 17, 2013 6:08AM
Ford will update software on 77,000 hybrid vehicles to quell complaints that the cars fall way short of government fuel-economy estimates, the automaker said on Tuesday.

Starting in August, dealers will offer owners of the 2013 Ford C-Max, Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid a suite of "calibration updates" that Ford said would "provide our customers enhanced on-road fuel-economy satisfaction."

While the company's official city and highway estimates submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency will not change – a contentious point that triggered waves of complaints, including from Consumer Reports, and at least two pending class-action lawsuits accusing the automaker of false advertising – the new software modifies many of the vehicle settings in an attempt to boost mileage.

Among the changes are increasing the maximum electric-only top speed to 85 mph from 62 mph, forcing the active grille shutters to close more often, keeping the electric cooling fan at lower speeds, cutting the gas engine's warm-up time by half so it shuts off sooner and reducing the load of the air-conditioning compressor.

"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," Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, said in a statement. "Customers should see the most improvement at highway speeds, during air-conditioner use and operation in colder climates."

Consumer Reports, after purchasing two of Ford's hybrids, ignited the firestorm in December when it published that editors had achieved an average of only 35 mpg city/41 mpg highway for the Fusion and 35/38 for the C-Max. It says other owners have reported similar disappointing results. The official EPA numbers are 47/47 for both cars, and 45/45 for the Lincoln.

"Yes, the disclaimer on EPA fuel-economy labels notes that your results may differ. But the overall mpg for these C-Max and Fusion models is off by a whopping 10 and 8 mpg, respectively, or about 20 percent," the magazine said. "Our overall-mpg results are usually pretty close to the EPA's combined-mpg estimate."

The report came one month after the EPA found that Hyundai and Kia had overstated fuel-economy numbers on 75 new cars, to which the automakers responded by giving owners lifetime fuel credits that reportedly will cost them more than $400 million.

Despite an EPA investigation that had been ongoing since December, the agency made no indication that it intended to revise the fuel-economy estimates for Ford's three models.

Lawsuits seeking damages for alleged false advertising are pending in Pennsylvania and California. They have the potential to include tens of thousands of customers who purchased the cars. Ford has denied any wrongdoing and has said from the start that its mileage figures were done in accordance with EPA regulations and that it's typical for hybrid drivers to see wide variances in fuel economy.

The EPA relies on manufacturers to submit their fuel-economy estimates and verifies only about 15 percent of all new cars every year.

[Source: Ford]
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