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Ford Amasses Driver Data to Improve on Mileage Ratings

Ford Amasses Driver Data to Improve on Federal Mileage Ratings
Ford Motor Co. is pushing for changes to how the industry looks at fuel economy after Consumer Reports singled out some of its models with hybrid and turbocharged powertrains for falling short of mileage ratings. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co., facing criticism about the fuel economy of some of its models, moved to boost the amount of driver-mileage data sharing to come up with measures more valuable than government ratings.

Ford will challenge software developers to create mobile or Web-based applications that help drivers more easily access personal fuel-economy data, Jim Farley, Ford’s executive vice president of global marketing, said during a speech to open the New York auto show. He said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ratings “really aren’t as meaningful.”

“Some companies are going to be rewarded by starting to introduce new ways for customers to see real-world fuel economy,” Farley told reporters today after his speech. “We’re going to be a leader in this space. We are absolutely changing some of our communication around fuel economy.”

Gasoline mileage is crucial to auto purchases, with more new-vehicle owners saying it was the primary reason for buying a car or truck than any other determinant, according to J.D. Power & Associates. Ford is pushing for changes to how the industry looks at fuel economy after Consumer Reports singled out some of its models for falling short of mileage ratings.

“No matter what goes in advertising claims, customers are skeptical,” Farley told reporters. “We have to give them tools like the app we’re talking about, and that’s how they’ll really enjoy our cars, that’s how they’ll be able to compare across other companies’ products.”

Consumer Reports

In December, Yonkers, New York-based Consumer Reports said that two of Ford’s newest hybrid models trailed their EPA ratings of 47 miles per gallon (76 kilometers) by 17 percent to 21 percent in its testing. The Ford Fusion hybrid achieved 39 mpg, while the C-Max hybrid averaged 37 mpg in tests of city and highway driving.

In February, Consumer Reports said its tests of turbocharged cars from Ford and General Motors Co. didn’t support the companies’ statements about that powertrain technology’s fuel economy and performance. Tests of Ford’s 2013 Fusion sedan with a 1.6-liter turbo engine found the car to be slower and less fuel efficient than models with standard four-cylinder engines including Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry and Honda Motor Co.’s Accord, the magazine said.

“We’re in an unfortunate situation where people are disappointed even though they’re getting very good fuel economy,” Jake Fisher director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said today in an interview. “If an automaker or someone else could actually predict the fuel economy that you would get out of a car, it would be far more useful.”

Fusion Sales

The criticism has done little to slow sales for the Fusion, which has drawn comparisons to Aston Martin luxury-car styling since its redesign last year. Deliveries for the model climbed 28 percent to 27,875 in February, topping Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima for a second-straight month, and coming within 125 sales of passing Honda’s Accord. Sales of Toyota’s Camry, which remains the mid-size car segment leader, slipped 9.5 percent.

“There’s no question that Ford has made strides and improved the fuel efficiency of their cars,” Fisher said. “The discrepancy between expectations is what the problem is.”

Ford has been experimenting in its advertising with the way it makes fuel-economy assertions to better communicate with consumers, Farley said. Ford’s television ads for the Fusion hybrid emphasize that that car gets more than twice the mileage of the average car on the road instead of boasting best-in-class fuel economy.

More Relevance

“We did that very intentionally,” he said. “We thought that would be a more relevant claim for customers than the EPA” rating.

Farley also reiterated that Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford is working with the EPA to determine whether changes to the industry’s hybrid testing procedures are needed.

Ford has countered Consumer Reports’ criticism of its hybrids by pointing out that several of Toyota’s Prius hybrid models showed even bigger fuel-economy shortfalls against EPA estimates in city driving than the Fusion and C-Max hybrids.

Hybrids can lose about 7 miles per gallon when driving at 75 miles per hour rather than 65 mph, Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief, said in January at the Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference in Detroit. A difference of 30 degrees in outside temperature can cause a 5 mpg disparity. Mileage can be another 5 mpg lower for a new hybrid compared with one that’s been driven at least 6,000 miles, he said.

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