Can Ford's C-Max And Fusion Hybrids Really Outsell Toyota?

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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

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Ford's hybrid sales have been on a roll this year, with two new models for 2013 now in showrooms across the country.

The company sold almost 30,000 Ford and Lincoln hybrids from January through April, just about triple the number in its best comparable previous period, which was 2011.

That led some incautious reporters to make reference to Ford perhaps besting hybrid powerhouse Toyota on its own turf.

Hometown newspaper The Detroit News, for instance, said last week that Ford's new hybrids are "challenging Toyota Motor Corp. for hybrid-vehicle supremacy."

Well, that all depends how you define "supremacy."

Certainly many reviewers have judged the 2013 Ford C-Max and 2013 Ford Fusion hybrids to be smooth, quiet, and comfortable, and perform better than their Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry Hybrid equivalents.

Volumes: not even close

But let's be clear: Ford will not come anywhere close to challenging Toyota in hybrid sales volume, either in the U.S. or globally, this year or in the near future.

Ford doesn't currently sell hybrids outside North America, though that may change in the next few years.

And in the U.S. market, Ford's total hybrid sales will be only a fraction of Toyota's.

If Ford keeps up its current pace of hybrid sales (including its Energi plug-in hybrid models), it will sell just under 90,000 hybrids in the U.S. this year.

That would be by far its best-ever hybrid sales year; its previous high was 35,496 back in 2010.

Toyota to exceed 200,000

By contrast, Toyota has already sold 55,700 Prius hybrids alone through April, meaning that its total will likely be more than 200,000 when all its other hybrid models are added in.

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

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Those include the Camry Hybrid, the Highlander Hybrid, the new-for-2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, and various Lexus hybrids, including the CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback.

Moreover, Ford has said for several years that it has capacity to build up to 100,000 electrified vehicles a year.

That includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and the small numbers of its Focus Electric battery-electric hatchback that it's sold to date.

That number will likely increase in years to come, helping Ford in its drive to meet new and more stringent gas-mileage rules--but at least for this year, that's its maximum.

So Toyota will remain comfortably in the lead for U.S. sales of hybrid vehicles--although Ford is making strides to reduce the difference.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, test drive, Catskill Mountains, NY, Mar 2013

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, test drive, Catskill Mountains, NY, Mar 2013

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Gas-mileage gap

Regrettably, neither Ford appears to achieve anything close to its 47-mpg EPA combined fuel-efficiency rating in real-world use.

Sufficient numbers of C-Max Hybrid and 2013 Fusion Hybrid buyers have complained that the EPA is now investigating those cars.

In the industry, the consensus is that it's more a problem with the difference between the EPA test cycles--set down in 1970, and subject only to numeric "adjustment factors" since then--and how drivers actually behave in the real world.

The EPA test results are the only gas-mileage figures that any carmaker is legally allowed to cite in advertisements and other marketing for their cars.

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