Just the Facts:
-Ford's C-Max and Fusion Hybrids both were rated at 47 mpg in the EPA's city, highway and combined driving test cycles.
-Consumers tell Edmunds and others that the EPA mileage is unobtainable.
-Now the EPA is reviewing Ford data in the wake of the recent rollback of Hyundai and Kia fuel-efficiency claims.
Concerned about consumer and media reports that Ford Motor Co.'s claimed 47 mpg fuel efficiency for its new C-Max and Fusion hybrids is a seemingly unobtainable goal, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has begun a review of test data for the two models, Edmunds has learned.
The review comes less than a month after the agency ordered Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia to roll back fuel-efficiency claims for 13 of their models.
Although manufacturer testing error is being blamed for the Hyundai and Kia fuel-efficiency foul-ups, that situation being followed so closely by the apparent Ford hybrid discrepancies focuses new attention on the well-known but generally ignored fact that the EPA's ratings typically overstate a vehicle's fuel efficiency.
Because the agency's testing cannot control for all real-world driving situations and climate conditions, federal reports and most independent reviewers discount EPA ratings by at least 20 percent when translating tested fuel-efficiency ratings into the fuel economy consumers can expect to get in their own driving.
In Ford's case, the discrepancies are in that ballpark. Consumer Reports magazine, whose recent test of the two hybrids sparked the review, found that the best it could do with the new C-Max Hybrid was 37 mpg combined city and highway driving — 21 percent below the EA rating — while the 2013 Fusion Hybrid came in at 39 mpg, a 17 percent discrepancy.
The magazine wasn't the first to discover the difficulties in achieving 47 mpg with the cars. Although dissatisfaction with the models' mileage isn't universal, many C-Max Hybrid buyers using Edmunds.com's forums have been complaining since it when on sale earlier this year that they couldn't get close to 47 mpg; there are similar complaints about the Fusion Hybrid.
Edmunds.com's own test-drivers were unable to do better than a combined average of 33 mpg in the C-Max hybrid over almost 400 miles of driving in varied Southern California conditions.
An EPA review of test data on the two Fords doesn't mean that there is an impropriety in the testing procedure but could signal that the agency is beginning to reconsider the design of its own tests and how they are applied.
Most vehicles today are tested by the manufacturers using EPA procedures — the agency hasn't the budget or manpower to do its own testing of every new vehicle each year but says it does spot-check about 15 percent of the total.
Ford said it is aware of the EPA's review and intends to cooperate fully with the agency. The company also said that early reviews by consumers show that some are able to meet or exceed the 47 mpg rating for both the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid and that the various reviews finding that goal unobtainable merely illustrate that there are many factors that can cause mileage to vary.
Is it unfortunate that this comes just four days after Ford issued a report saying that winning consumer trust would be the big issue for the coming year?