2013 Ford C-Max, Fusion Hybrids To Be Modified To Boost MPG In Real-World Use

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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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That noise you heard yesterday afternoon?

That was the sound of the other shoe dropping.

Ford said yesterday that it will "enhance the on-road fuel economy performance" of the 77,000 2013 hybrid models it's sold over the last year, in an effort to "improve customer satisfaction."

The announcement is a response to widespread press reports--on this site and Consumer Reports, among others--that owners of the all-new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid and 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid do not achieve anywhere near the advertised EPA ratings of 47 mpg combined in real-world use.

Most owners appear to achieve 35 to 42 mpg in mixed use.

In December, the EPA said it would investigate the apparent discrepancies.

“We believe these actions will provide our customers enhanced on-road fuel economy satisfaction," said Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president, for global product development.

Software recalibrations

This is not a recall, but an upgrade that will be offered free of charge to existing owners of those two vehicles.

It will also be offered to buyers of the 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which uses the same powertrain.

2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, New York City, June 2013

2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, New York City, June 2013

Enlarge Photo

The changes do not apply to the plug-in hybrid Energi models of the two Ford hybrids (there is no plug-in MKZ Hybrid).

Ford will recalibrate the vehicle-control software to try to boost real-world gas mileage during short trips, at highway speeds, and when the climate-control system is being used.

The changes Ford plans to make have already been incorporated into newly-built versions of those same cars.

Short trips, highways, cold weather

Specifically, Ford said it will make the following changes to recalibrate the vehicle's various software control systems:

  • Raise the maximum speed in electric-only mode from 62 mph to 85 mph, increasing the vehicle's ability to travel at highway speeds using only battery electricity
  • Increase the number of situations in which Active Grille Shutters are closed to reduce drag, to include times when the air conditioning is in use, when engine temperatures are higher, and in cold weather
  • Cut the speed of the engine fan depending on coolant temperature, to reduce energy consumption
  • Shorten the time it takes for the engine to warm up by up to 50 percent, providing electric-only power more quickly after cold starting
  • Adjust the climate-control software to cut energy used during cold weather and minimize operation of the air-conditioning compressor

Ford did not offer any suggestions as to how much these changes might improve real-world fuel economy.

“Customers should see the most improvement at highway speeds, during air conditioner use and operation in colder climates," said Nair.

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

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

Enlarge Photo

“Just as individual mileage can vary based on driving styles and environmental conditions," he cautioned, "we expect fuel economy improvements will differ from customer to customer depending on individual driving habits."

The upgrade program will kick off next month; owners will be asked if they wish to bring their vehicles to dealerships for the recalibration.

Hybrid sales rising

During yesterday afternoon's press conference, Ford surrounded the announcement of the upgrades with recent sales data.

The company has sold more hybrids in the first six months of this year than it did during all of 2012.

Ford's customer surveys show that its latest hybrid models have increased its overall market share, improved "conquest" sales from owners of other makes--especially Toyota and Honda--and in particular attracted owners of the Toyota Prius hybrid.

That vehicle, Ford says, is the top trade-in from buyers who select the C-Max Hybrid. Ford noted that overall Prius sales have fallen 5 percent for the first six months of the year.

The company's press event in Detroit was attended by local media as well as webcast live, but the company answered questions only from Detroit reporters. Ford cut off the broadcast for all journalists from other locations before the Q+A period began.


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Comments (31)
  1. Two questions.
    1) How will we know if this actually improves real world fuel economy?
    2) Why wouldn't the same changes be needed on the Energi models when they are in charge sustaining mode?

  2. @John:

    (1) I suspect we'll have to wait for owner reports and/or visit the EPA FuelEconomy.gov and Fuel.ly sites to look at driver inputs of recorded mileage figures.

    (2) The Energi models are already differently tuned. They can, for instance, operate in all-electric mode up to 85 mpg already.

  3. Thanks for the reply.
    1) Seems like only Fuelly data from 2014 model year will be useful. The 2013 model years will forever be a mixture of pre-fix data and post-fix data, particularly given that not all owners will bring their vehicles in for the upgrade.

    2) OK, so perhaps the Energi can already go up to 85 mph in electric mode, but that is only one of the five bullet points listed. I wonder if the Energi already has these other fixes.
    I guess there are probably no reliable data points for the Energi MPG values in charge sustaining mode, given that most Energi customers probably work to stay out of charge sustaining mode.

    Really interesting story and development.

  4. @John: I confirmed with Ford that the two Energi models are not subject to this recalibration.

  5. Interesting news:

  6. @Carol: Yes, we covered that story too, here:

  7. As a Fusion Hybrid owner who is happy with the MPG of our car I'm a bit concerned about this, especially increasing the EV speed threshold. Engineering science says that this is bad, not good. Being that we see 55+ MPG consistently for our tanks now that the weather is warm and 45+ on the freeway at 65 MPH we are very happy with our car.

  8. We own a 2013 C-Max plugin. Why can't ours be upgraded? We're very happy with it the way it is BUT improving a good thing is a good thing.

  9. This tweak is for the hybrid model. Probably related to how the gas engine/battery work together, which would mean the tweak is probably meaningless for your vehicle.

  10. I wonder if the numbers on the Fusion hybrid are rising slightly on Fuelly. Looks like 41.1 MPG. Still not 47, but better than I remember it.

  11. And the C-max hybrid is coming in at 39.8 mpg.

  12. @John: Those numbers may also reflect the change from winter driving (the first hybrids were delivered late last summer) to more temperate spring driving, which will raise average fuel economy somewhat.

  13. I seriously hope VW Follows this lead.......My mileage peaked at 38.7 overall and most ever for a tank was 44 just turned over 10,000 miles in my 2013 VW Jetta HYBRID SEL Premium....with the heat I am averaging mid 30's THIS SUCKS!!

  14. Ok, how much do those things really make in "real world" difference?

    1. Increase speed to 85MPH only helps a little since the hybrid battery size is tiny (1.4KWh), it is "only" signficant if your drive is only couple miles. With acceleration, it is only good enough for about 3 miles of hwy traveling.

    2. By close the shutter at hwy speed with A/C on and allow the engine to operate at higher temperature, isn't that a "negative" effect on durability and reliability? If it doesn't, why didn't Ford do that from the start?

    3. Engine fan energy draw is minimal. That is really squeezing it...

    4. Shorten warmup is good. That is a no brainer. However, in cold start, the battery power is also limited.

    5. Is it going to be an ECO^2 mode?

  15. I would like to elaborate on #1 if I could. Sure you could go only a couple miles on electric only at 85MPH. But also keep in mind that whenever the engine is on it is recharging the battery. So you could actually travel those couple miles have the engine turn on and recharge the battery, then when the battery is recharged to a certain point then it turns off again. You are still going 85MPH or less on electric only, saving gas. Then the cycle repeats. Sounds pretty good to me.

  16. @James: I don't believe it's necessarily the case that the engine is *always* recharging the battery when it's on.

    If the battery is close to full and/or the vehicle can operate most efficiently in engine-only mode, it will decouple the generator and pass engine torque straight through to the wheels without any electric drive involved in either direction.

  17. What are the potential problems with faster warm-up times for the vehicle via software update(Wouldn't this create part wear or create other long-term issues?)?

  18. Actually at a constant crusing speed, it is better to use the engine powering the wheel directly instead of Engine-generator-electric motor configuration.

    That is why Volt in the extend range mode with speed above 70mph, the engine provides torque directly to the planetary gearset instead of generator.

  19. There's no doubt Ford has been making great strides with their hybrid technology, but with customers not getting the expected mileage in their real world driving, there were some upset customers. Making an extra effort to tweak a few of the systems to improve the mileage really shows that Ford cares about their customer base and wants to do the right thing.
    Thumbs up to Ford on their effort to please their customers.

  20. Kudos to Ford for the upgrade, but negative kudos for not foreseeing the lower real world mileage numbers to begin with. I imagine for most people the hybrid mileage numbers may be similar to the restaurant scenario...Imagine going to a restaurant and grumbling about how excruciatingly long the wait was. But then when you finally get your food, which is delicious, the complaining about the long wait is quickly forgotten. The Fusion Hybrid is a gorgeous car that happens to be a hybrid. It doesn't excuse the situation IMHO, but the software upgrade is certainly a step in the right direction, to make an already good car even better.

  21. I think the biggest MPG factor with hybrids is the "nut behind the wheel" :) -- today I got 53.3 MPG in my wife's C-Max driving into town --but if you're bombing down the freeway at 80 you're not gonna get 47 MPG. Software tweaks can't overcome the law of physics.

  22. We are so far from law of physics that it really doesn't impact it.

    For example, a Tesla S cruising at 80mph is still going to be way more efficient than a F-150 bombing down the hwy at 80mph.

    In fact, a Tesla S cruising at 80mph is still going to use less energy than a Prius cruising at 65mph.

    The law of physics says that an ICE got no chance against the efficiency of electric motor.

  23. @Xiaolong: How are you measuring "efficiency"? Your statement is true if you are speaking of the percentage of fuel that is converted into torque, since gasoline engines run about 25% and electric motors about 90%.

    But if you're looking at actual kilowatts needed to cruise at a steady speed, I'd suggest the Model S and Prius may be roughly similar. Both are very aerodynamic, the Model S is heavier than a Prius, so I'm not sure why you'd say a Prius is "less efficient" cruising at 65 mph than a Model S at 80 mph.

    Can you provide the data you're using so we can see exactly how you're defining "efficient"?

  24. You already explained it.

    The "energy" required at higher speed will be much higher. But from a % of gasoline energy converted into motion vs. % of electricity converted into motion, the Tesla at higher speed will use "less energy" than the gasoline based Prius at lower speed.


    Tesla listed its 85KWh range of 200 miles @ 80mph. That is 2.35 miles per KWh or 79 MPGe.

    Prius traveling at 65mph will get no better than 60mpg. Or 60 miles for every 33.7KWh or 1.78 miles per KWh equivalent.

    Most of that gain are from the electric motor efficiency vs. ICE.

    Also, Tesla S has better aero than Prius at high speed as well. But drag at 80mph will still be higher than 65mph.

  25. My wife and I have 5400 miles on the 2013 FFH we bought in January 2013 in Colorado Springs. We are at 46.5 mpg overall and climbing. I'd be interested to know how many folks had hybrids before purchasing the FFH(I had a Civic hybrid from 2004-2012 with 140000 mi; combined 44 mpg all weather/driving conditions). There are many variables to consider, of course, but my 100 hp combined Civic did not require me to be as ginger on the gas pedal, versus this new FFH at 188 hp, to save gasoline. Do folks not understand the dual capabilities of this car (It zooms when needed)? Also, do not underestimate low-friction tires on these hybrids (Our Civic lost 5-7 mpg when we mistakenly put on a regular set). We are pleased with this FFH.

  26. Prius finally has some competition. The C-Max drives nicely and quietly, giving the impression of an expensive, luxury car. Credit Ford's use of sound cancellation technology and sound deadening materials.

  27. Skip the Fords and buy a Volt. It can go up to 105 MPG on electric power alone, and between 40-50 miles on a charge, and average 37 MPG combined on gas alone. I am currently averaging 160 MPG, and I can go 1000 miles on about $18. worth of electricity.

  28. Whoops! That's 105 MPH, not MPG.

  29. I looked at a C-Max hybrid and I was impressed with it. It has a surprising amount of storage room and space inside and its over all styling is rather nice. I would definitely be interested in one as a primary car I am waiting to see what Tesla has in store for it's $35,000 Gen III which should be coming by 2016. I am hoping for greater than 200 miles of range as well as decent 7 second or less performance as well as a practical functional styling such as a sporty 5 door style.

  30. So Ford is tweaking with the battery discharge metrics. Makes me wonder what kind of battery issues will develop over the life of the vehicle. I applaud Ford for developing and promoting the Fusion Hybrid, but their crafty manipulation of the 47,47,47 MPG backfired. I don't want to hear excuses from Ford as Toyota has accurately tested their hybrids for years.

  31. Looking at fuelly.com, the 2013 C-Max (251 cars reporting) got an average of 40.2 mpg. The 2013 Prius V (70 cars reporting) got 43.0 mpg and the 2012 Prius V (265 cars reporting) got 42.1 mpg.

    If someone said the C-Max had noticeably better acceleration than the Prius V but got about 10% less mpg, I would think that was a reasonable trade-off. Having just test driven both of them I much prefer the C-Max when punching the gas, it feels similar to my 2000 CR-V I'm looking to replace.

    The EPA 47/47 made the C-Max a great deal - but 40 mpg is not too bad. I'm still weighing the C-Max vs the Prius V. Consumer reports even with the mpg issue still gave the C-Max a higher score (83) than the Prius V (80).

    Now to decide ...

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