Ford: High Hybrid Mileage May Require No-Fun Delicate Driving

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2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

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Ford is now clearly worried about the mileage ratings of its new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid and 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Company officials said on Friday that while they complied with all EPA test requirements, a driver's individual style is critical to achieving published fuel-efficiency numbers.

Both the C-Max and Fusion hybrids give drivers a choice, the company says, between a thrifty, efficient driving style--assisted by fuel economy tips in the instrument cluster--and a more fun, performance-oriented approach (which likely delivers mileage that's far short of published ratings).

On Friday, two company officials addressed the wide discrepancies between real-world mileage delivered by the vehicles--as documented on this site and by Consumer Reports, among others--versus their 47-mpg combined EPA ratings.

Joe Hinrichs, the company's president of the Americas, told The Detroit News that Ford had followed EPA guidelines when testing the cars. (Most carmakers test the cars themselves, then submit test data to the EPA for verification.)

As the Detroit paper noted, "Essentially, the C-Max Hybrid is optimized for the EPA test" because its electric top speed of 62 mph exceeds the highest speed on the EPA's highway test, set at a remarkably low and unrealistic 60 mph.

But in light of news that the EPA will look into Ford hybrids' mileage, Hinrichs said the company is talking with the agency to "determine if changes are necessary" to the test procedures specifically for hybrid vehicles.

And there's a precedent. Several years ago, the EPA modified its "adjustment factors" to raw test data specifically for hybrids.

Those changes were made to accommodate widespread discrepancies between the combined ratings for both the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, which ranged above 50 mpg, versus real-world mileage closer to the high 30s or low 40s as reported by owners.

Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president for global product development, expanded on the thought, as reported in Green Car Congress.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

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“We absolutely agree with EPA that hybrids are far more variable in the test cycle compared to real-world driving conditions in conventional vehicles," he said.

It's the fun driving character of the new hybrids that causes the problem, he suggested.

"We could have detuned the vehicles to maximize fuel economy like some of our competitors have done," he said, "but it would have been at the expense of a fun driving experience."

In other words, it appears that many of the characteristics that Ford designed into the C-Max Hybrid to make it a viable and appealing alternative to the Prius family are the same ones that seem to make it extremely hard to match its mileage ratings.

What do you think? Is it better to have a hybrid car that requires extreme focus on driving style to achieve its ratings, but also offers fun, sporty performance at the cost of fuel economy?

Or is the Prius approach--cars widely viewed as less fun to drive but more reliable in delivering real-world economy close to their ratings--better?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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