Ford ‘Voluntarily’ Cuts C-Max Hybrid Mileage, Will Compensate Consumers

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Those cute TV ads for Ford using the La Linea stick-figure character to tout the superior fuel economy of its C-Max Hybrid—and poke fun at the Toyota Prius v—take on a whole new cast now that Ford reportedly plans to announce a mea culpa and reduce the stated fuel-economy ratings of the C-Max.

The restatement, expected tomorrow, according to Automotive News, will comprise “a rare and potentially costly move that Ford spent months feverishly working to avoid,” as the publication put it. Cutting the ratings would be “a blow to Ford’s carefully cultivated image as a fuel-economy leader, a core tenet that CEO Allan Mulally has emphasized since joining the company in 2006.”

Not to mention, well, embarrassing. Ford has run into a number of problems lately of similar magnitude that clearly have dinged its brand if not its sales, including owner frustrations with operating its MyFord Touch telematics system and logistics and quality problems with some key vehicle launches including the Ford Escape SUV and the new Lincoln MKZ sedan.[more]

UPDATE: Ford announced this afternoon that it has cut the fuel-economy rating of its C-Max Hybrid to 43 mpg from 47 mpg and that it is compensating each purchaser of the car to the tune of $550 and each lessee with $325. The company also plans a series of changes to the car that will improve C-Max Hybrid’s fuel economy in highway driving, including tire-air deflectors and a new engine oil.

“We will continue to work with the EPA” on correctly rating fuel economy of the vehicle “but rather than wait for that, it was the right thing to voluntarily change the (mileage) label right now,” Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, told journalists on a conference call.

In cutting C-Max’s stated mileage, Ford also will suffer the ignominy of joining Hyundai and Kia in such a move. The two Korean brands agreed in November to reduce the stated mileage on several of their models after the EPA discovered that Hyundai and Kia had fudged some of the numbers so they could boast about having a handful of models that registered over 40 mpg. Now, those labels show 36 to 38 mpg and the brands are reimbursing owners of those cars with gasoline cards in a program that could cost them $100 million, according to Automotive News.

It isn’t yet clear in the case of Ford how much restatement will be involved. C-Max fell around 20 percent short of the 47-mpg promise in tests by the respected testing lab of Consumer Reports magazine, which uses a different method than the EPA. And while other hybrids also fell short of their stated fuel economy, the publication said, Ford’s C-Max and Fusion Hybrid were the worst. Ford has been sued in two class-action measures as well.

Ford could confirm and detail its move tomorrow in a media event at its product-development center in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford also is headquartered. Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, is to provide what a Ford release called “an update on Ford’s commitment to fuel-economy leadership.”

Nair may have to start by admitting that part of the leadership so far has been fictional.

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