Hoping to build demand for a new generation of dedicated battery cars, Ford says it expects its new C-Max hybrid to deliver about 3 miles per gallon better fuel economy than the similarly sized Toyota Prius V.
Tackling the Prius powerhouse is something a number of makers have so far tried – and failed to achieve. The original Toyota hatchback has been the world’s best-selling hybrid and now the Japanese maker is trying to ride its own coattails with an assortment of other hybrids also sharing the Prius name.
The largest of the offerings, the microvan-sized Prius V, has been gaining ground on the sales charts thanks to a mix of strong mileage – at 44 mpg in the EPA’S City cycle – and added room.
Ford plans to play it by the numbers, pitching the new C-Max as offering better mileage, more room, more power – and a lower price.
The new model, based on a popular European “people-mover,” is Ford’s first dedicated hybrid for the U.S. market. While it offers optional gas-electric drivelines in a number of vehicles, including the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, all C-Max models will be battery-based, much like Prius, including a conventional hybrid and a plug-in version dubbed Ford C-Max Energi.
The standard hybrid will deliver 47 mpg in urban driving, according to Ford estimates, though final EPA numbers haven’t yet been released. That would be 3 mpg, or about 6%, better than the Prius V. Ford estimates the C-Max hybrid will get 44 mpg on the highway.
At the same time, the maker plans to launch the base version of the C-Max for about $1,300 less than the Prius V MSRP of $27,310.
That, the maker’s group vice president Raj Nair claims, “means the payback period will be the smallest in the segment.” The term, “payback,” refers to the time it takes to recover the added cost of a hybrid drivetrain through the savings on fuel.
Ford also promises a bigger cabin, and 184 horsepower – 50 more than its direct Toyota competitor.
The debut of the C-Max, according to Nair, provides, “a great chance for us to shake up the hybrid market.”
Nonetheless, there are no guarantees Ford can pull it off. The Prius name has become one of the most powerful draws in the auto industry, the original hybrid itself now accounting for half of all gas-electric sales worldwide. The strength of the Prius brand has turned the spin-off models, including the V, the compact C and, now, the Prius Plug-in, into strong sellers even as the rest of the hybrid market slides as gas prices retreat.
But Ford is hoping that it can finally gain some traction by offering not only better numbers but a distinctive body style that will tell anyone interested that the owner is driving a “green machine.”
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