Another day, another hybrid braking problem. Only this time, it's not Toyota. It's Ford.
Late yesterday, Ford announced a "customer satisfaction program" that will ask that owners of 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid models built before October 17 to bring the cars to their dealer for a free software upgrade.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2010 Toyota Prius vs 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid - Detroit News hybrid showdown
The fix is meant to reduce the chance that drivers will experience what feels like a loss of braking; it updates the software that controls the interplay among the cars' anti-lock brakes, regenerative brakes, and conventional friction brakes.
"Different brake feel"
In the Fusion Hybrid and Milan Hybrid, the brake control system switches from regenerative braking--to recharge the battery pack--to conventional hydraulic braking if a fail-safe sensor detects electromagnetic signals that might interfere with the electronic brakes.
Ford defines the problem as "a different brake feel," and says, "While the vehicles maintain full braking capability, customers may initially perceive the condition as loss of brakes." The fix will raise the fail-safe system's threshold, to reduce "unnecessary" switching.
The issue was initially brought to light by a Consumer Reports auto writer but, says Ford [NYSE:F] emphatically, "There have been no injuries related to this condition."
Prius: It's the ABS engaging
Ford hybrid braking problem is slightly different than the one involving the 2010 Toyota Prius (and now, by the way, also the 2010 Lexus HS 250h dedicated hybrid sedan, which uses some of the same software as the 2010 Prius).
In the Prius case, customers complained of loss of braking--Toyota calls it "inconsistent brake feel"--on rough or slippery surfaces. The Prius problem involved the transition from regenerative to hydraulic brakes while the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is activated.
Toyota introduced updated software to speed the ABS response time for all new 2010 Prius models built since late January, but is still weighing whether to recall the 270,000 cars it has already sold around the world.
Neither that problem nor Ford's update is related to the two separate recalls of various Toyota and Lexus vehicles that may experience sticking accelerator pedals. To address that problem, Toyota is now recalling more than 8 million cars on five continents.
So while the 2010 Toyota Prius beat the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid in a recent Detroit News showdown, it seems fair to say that Ford has conclusively stepped ahead of Toyota on public perceptions around hybrid braking issues. Well ... for today, anyhow.