In the wake of Ford’s recent adjustment of the real world miles per gallon fuel rating of its 2013 C-MAX Hybrid after complaints and lawsuits that it was inaccurate the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the ratings system, is announcing some plans for updating as well. These labeling regulation changes will be designed to make sure that “the requirements keep pace with industry trends and innovations in advanced high-efficiency vehicles.”
To recap, Ford originally pegged the combined fuel economy value rating of the C-MAX Hybrid at 47 MPG. It later adjusted it down to 43 MPG after admitting that, based upon rules consistent with EPA guidelines, “testing of the Fusion Hybrid was used to generate fuel economy labels for a family of vehicles, including both Fusion Hybrid and C-MAX Hybrid. The result was the same fuel economy label values for both vehicles.” The automaker, in damage control mode, not only will be testing the vehicles separately in the future, but also is offering rebates to cover “the estimated average fuel cost of the difference between” the two different C-MAX Hybrid fuel labels.
As for the EPA, a statement issued by the governmental agency noted that
Ford based the 2013 Ford C-Max label on testing of the related Ford Fusion hybrid, which has the same engine, transmission and test weight as allowed under EPA regulations. For the vast majority of vehicles this approach would have yielded a more accurate label value for the car, but these new vehicles are more sensitive to small design differences than conventional vehicles because advanced highly efficient vehicles use so little fuel.
To date, most high-efficiency hybrids have been used in a single vehicle design and therefore do not have this issue. The Ford hybrid family is one of two examples in the industry where advanced technology vehicles with the same engine, transmission and hybrid components are used across multiple vehicle designs. EPA regulations allow but do not require automakers to generate a label for each design in this circumstance. With the new Ford C-Max label, each vehicle design within the two high-efficiency hybrid families now has its own label.
The EPA said it tested the C-MAX Hybrid after getting consumer complaints on the fuel economy discrepancies, finding that [PDF] this hybrid’s “aerodynamic characteristics resulted in a significant difference in fuel economy from the Fusion hybrid.” This then brought about new labeling for the vehicle of 43 MPG combined, 45 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. This is compared to the original values of 47 MPG across the board, and with the change one finds the biggest value drop is the highway rating at a notable 7 MPG slip.
Now we should point out here these differences reflect changes in ratings, according to the EPA, on “all new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrids, and would also be appropriate for all 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrids that have been upgraded with new software by Ford.” The software upgrade in question is a free update from the automaker offered last month to improve fuel economy. Without the patch, the adjusted economy ratings, again based upon new EPA testings, are slightly worse, coming in at 41 MPG combined, 42 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. That’s a drop of 6 MPG on the non-patched, originally reported upon value for combined fuel economy.
The agency, going forward, “expects to see greater use of common high efficiency systems across multiple vehicles by manufacturers in order to improve quality and reduce manufacturing costs.” It plans to work “with consumer advocates, environmental organizations and auto manufacturers, to propose revised fuel economy labeling regulations to ensure that consumers are consistently given the accurate fuel economy information on which they have come to rely.”
The revisions it ultimately will produce from this process for the labeling system to try and make sure this doesn’t happen again will alter regulations in place since 1977. At the time these rules allowed for, but did not require, for “vehicles with the same engine, transmission and weight class to use the same fuel economy label value data, since, historically, such vehicle families achieve nearly identical fuel economy performance.”