Ford has introduced two new hybrid vehicles lately – the C Max and the Fusion. Ford says both cars should get 47 mpg in both city and highway driving. But out in the real world, consumers and testers are finding their mileage is far less.
Consumer Reports found that both cars only got between 33 and 39 mpg in actual driving. Those numbers are not bad, in and off themselves. But the point is they are far lower than Ford claims. And it has some customers who just shelled out a bunch of money for a new C Max or Fusion hybrid pretty upset. An ordinary Honda Civic is rated at 39 mpg highway and it doesn’t cost anywhere near the $30,000 Ford is selling its hybrids for. Oddly, the EPA rates the C Max at 39 mpg and the Fusion hybrid at 37 mpg. So where Ford is getting its numbers from is a bit of a mystery.
I used to sell cars for a living, back in the 90’s. I sold Saturns, which were designed from the ground up to be fuel efficient. And they were. But gasoline then cost half was it costs today. When I talked about fuel economy to my customers, their eyes would glaze over. They were far more interested in things that mattered to them, like cup holders, rear seat leg room and 0-60 times.
But today, it’s all about miles per gallon. Every manufacturer on the planet is desperate to show its cars are more fuel efficient than the other guys’. The Hyundai/Kia twins just underwent a painful public relations problem because their cars weren’t getting the kind of gas mileage out in the real world that they said they would. So now they are reimbursing customers for the extra gas they are using. Ford may soon find itself in the same bind.
When I bought my Prius in 2007, the window sticker claimed 60 mpg city/50 mpg city. I knew that was crazy talk. I figured if I got around 45 mpg in all around driving, I would be happy. And that’s exactly what I got on average over 70,000 miles.
The problem with all these hybrid vehicles is that drivers can and will experience a wide range of fuel economy performance out there on the highways and byways of life. We expect the results the manufacturers get under ideal conditions. I found from my own experience that hybrid battery performance falls off sharply in cold weather, reducing fuel economy by about 20%. Also, winter blend gasoline reduces mileage by another 10%. So when the weather gets cold, your hybrid is going to get about 1/3 fewer miles per gallon then during the summer. No one tells you any of this when you are considering buying one of these cars, though.
The whole hybrid/mpg debate has led to some wild claims and near hysteria among the buying public. But in general, a hybrid owner has to keep a car for 6 years or more before fuel savings equal the extra money a hybrid costs to purchase. How many people drive the same car for 6 years in modern day America? Ford offers plug-in hybrid versions of the C Max and the Fusion that cost almost $40,000. Which means you have to drive for more than a decade before you start saving any money. Is anyone paying attention out there?
And then there’s the tricky question of how long the battery in that fancy new hybrid will last and how much it will cost to replace. And that doesn’t even begin to address the environmental concerns that go along with recycling the battery when it’s used up.
It’s easy to understand how Ford dug this hole for themselves. They wanted to be able to say their cars outperform the Prius in the miles per gallon sweepstakes. And for a while, it was working. The C Max hybrid outsold the Prius in October of this year. But as word gets out that the claimed mileage doesn’t hold up in real world driving, sales may take a tumble. The question now is how Ford will get themselves out of this predicament. To paraphrase astronaut Jim Lovell, “Detroit, we have a problem.”