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Ford Faces Lawsuit Alleging “False” Mileage Claims

Concerns growing about the gap between advertised and real-world mileage.

by on Dec.27, 2012

Ford's mileage claims for the C-Max Hybrid have come under question.

Ford Motor Co. is facing a class action lawsuit alleging the maker’s mileage claims for two new hybrid models are “false and misleading.”

The maker has made fuel economy a major part of its advertising pitch for new products, notably including the 2013 C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid models. But its official ratings have come in for criticism, notably from such influential sources as Consumer Reports magazine.

But Ford is by no means alone. Korean siblings Kia and Hyundai recently had to roll back their own mileage numbers by as much as 6 mpg after conceding they fudged the official government testing process.

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“In its advertising and marketing campaign for the vehicles, Ford claimed that the C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid achieved a class leading 47 Miles Per Gallon,” reads part of the lawsuit filed by California-based law firm McCuneWright. “These materials helped Ford achieve record sales for the first two months of C-MAX Hybrid sales, outselling its rival, hybrid sales leader Toyota, but there was a problem. These ads were false.”

McCuneWright filed its lawsuit on behalf of Richard Pitkin, of Roseville, California, who claims he is getting just 37 mpg from the C-Max Hybrid he purchased in October.  According to the mileage numbers approved by the Environmental Protection Agency – which regulates fuel economy testing – the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid models both get 47 mpg in both the City and Highway, as well as Combined, cycles.

The lawsuit follows a report by Consumer Reports that also found the C-Max averaging just 37 mpg overall, while the Fusion Hybrid averaged 39 mpg.

In a blog post, the magazine said, “These two vehicles have the largest discrepancy between our overall-mpg results and the estimates published by the EPA that we’ve seen among any current models.”

Ford has defended its mileage numbers and notes that the vehicles can be driven more aggressively in Sport mode which will yield lower mileage.

“Early C-MAX Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid customers praise the vehicles and report a range of fuel economy figures, including some reports above 47 mpg,” Ford’s global marketing chief Jim Farley said earlier this month. “This reinforces the fact that driving styles, driving conditions, and other factors can cause mileage to vary.”

The EPA reportedly is investigating Ford’s testing procedures to ensure they comply with federal standards.  A routine audit revealed that Hyundai and Kia had knowingly made procedural mistakes that resulted in a significant increase in reported mileage.

The Korean carmakers have had to reduce their rating by anywhere from one to six miles per gallon. They have also agreed to provide debit cards to owners of the affected vehicles to cover increased fuel costs.  Both are also facing numerous lawsuits stemming from the mileage flap.

A number of other makers have also faced backlash over allegedly excessive mileage claims – especially with hybrid models. Consumer Reports says tests of two Toyota Prius models fell an average six to seven mpg short of EPA ratings.

Fuel economy can vary widely depending upon factors such as driver behavior, climate and even fuel quality.  And hybrids are “going to be far more variable than a conventional vehicle,” according to Linc Wehrly, director of the EPA compliance division’s test center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Part of the problem is the way the EPA test is conducted.  It has a maximum speed of just 60 mph, far less than most motorists now drive on U.S. highways.

Both Toyota and Ford hybrids can operate in electric-only mode only up to 62 mph, so at speeds above that mileage may drop sharply even if vehicles like the C-Max or Prius provide accurate numbers under EPA guidelines.

The EPA has revised its testing procedures several times over the years, most recently in 2009. It plans to expand the audit that nabbed Hyundai and Kia but has not indicated whether a further revision of mileage testing procedures may be needed to give a better reflection of what consumers can expect in the real world.

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6 Responses to “Ford Faces Lawsuit Alleging “False” Mileage Claims”

  1. 62Lincoln says:

    Paul, you should get a step ahead of the other journalists, and report on the law firm behind this suit. They specialize in lawsuits against the OEM’s for fuel economy claims: http://www.mccunewright.com/falseMPG.php

    Isn’t it fair to note their (perhaps) lack of credibility based on their “specialty”?

    I also think it is misleading to lump the Hyundai/Kia affair (cheating on the EPA tests) with Ford’s situation, which thus far has revealed absolutely no indication of cheating on the tests. You are staining Ford’s reputation with Hyundai/Kia’s proven cheating, and that is wrong.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Hi,

      While I understand your point regarding Hyundai/Kia v Ford the fact that the Detroit maker’s numbers are also under sharp question from numerous sources means that the story should be put into perspective. Other than mentioning the EPA has confirmed it will examine Ford’s test procedures and results I do not believe I tar them with the same brush…and I also make a point of noting other makers’ claims have also come under question.

      As to McCuneWright’s stated specialty, I am not sure that this in any way impacts their credibility. I have worked with lawyers who specialize in a variety of areas of the law and that, of itself, can be a very big positive. Mileage disputes are pretty rarified stuff, so I’d certainly want to turn to a specialist if I wanted to make such a case. I have seen nothing that indicates that MCW’s actions raise credibility or ethics issues. I will, however add a notation that this is something they do specialize in.

      Paul A. Eisenstein
      Publisher, TheDetroitBureau.com

  2. Jorge M. says:

    If the suit is based on the EPA test cycle and Ford’s advertised numbers are correct for the EPA test cycle, then this case should be dismissed. Studies have shown that driving styles can vary mpg as much as 30%.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      That’s a very interesting point, Jorge, and I would tend to agree. I will note there have been a number of lawsuits pressing makers to go beyond regulatory requirements, ie when it comes to safety. I believe the courts have generally held in favor of claims to meeting the standards. But if a maker knows that it can tweak its vehicles specifically to maximize mileage under the EPA cycle even if it also knows it cannot deliver under real-world conditions should it get a pass? I am NOT saying that is what Ford did…but as a journo I have had more than a few engineers and execs effectively confirm they do things such as tuning engine controllers or even choosing gear sets specifically to meet the test while knowing the real world situation will not match the results.

      Paul A. Eisenstein
      Publisher, TheDetroitBureau.com

  3. Jorge M. says:

    Of course the engineers tune for the EPA cycle. It would be irresponsible not too when the public uses this as a reference to judge mpg amongst competing models. What company would intentionally want lower legitimate EPA test cycle numbers to hurt their sales?

    If the EPA test cycle is not representative of actual driving patterns then it should be changed AGAIN so that it is representative. The reality however is just as I pointed out – operator driving style can alter the mpg by as much as 30%. How do you figure that into an EPA test?

    In addition to different driving styles, how many people in cold climates start their cars with remote starters to allow them to warm up for 10-15 minutes before then depart? Do they take this into consideration when they observe their actual mpg vs. the advertised EPA test cycle mpg figures? What about folks in hot climates who start their cars 10-15 minutes before they leave work to cool the interior with the A/C? Do they take that into consideration when calculating thier mpg? How many people leave their car idling when they run into the house or a store or whatever.

    When idling a car gets negative mpgs. You would be surprised how many supposedly educated people do not understand this… Take a look in car forums for upscale models which you would expect are generally owned by affluent people and you will see what I’m saying.

    The car makers have no choice but to advertise the EPA test cycle figures as anything else would be open to lawsuits, criticism and disparagement. What the EPA needs to do is Educate technically challened consumers who have no clue about the EPA testing program or the impact driving styles and other factors such as weather, road conditions, fuel mix for cold operation, etc. all have on actual mpg.

    IME I am able to routinely exceed the EPA figures for my cars and I don’t pussy-foot around or hyper-mile when I drive, so the EPA figures are not unrealistic. Driving styles may be the real issue but of course in the U.S. if there is money to be made by lawyers, their will be plenty of frivolous lawsuits.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      Hi, Jorge,

      Agreed, the EPA does need to make the test more realistic. But I still have concerns when I know that vehicles are tuned for the test and an automaker MIGHT know the results simply won’t reflect real-world conditions.

      My bigger concern is that makers are advertising highway mileage numbers that also grossly inflate expectations. I would like to see a shift to promoting in the big print ONLY combined mileage numbers which are as close to real as most drivers might experience on the majority of vehicles.

      Paul E.