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

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

“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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