DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will review Consumer Reports' data and findings that showed Ford Motor Co.'s two newest hybrid models fell below the company's promise of 47 mpg.
The magazine said last week it found the Ford Fusion hybrid, at 39 mpg, fell 17 percent short of the company's claim while the C-Max hybrid, at 37 mpg, fell 21 percent short of the claim.
Ford advertises that each model will achieve 47 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
The EPA told Bloomberg and The Detroit News it would look at the report and data.
The inquiry into Ford's mileage claims comes after South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. admitted last month to the biggest overstatement of fuel-economy ratings ever found by the EPA. The companies apologized and offered customers of 900,000 vehicles purchased in the past two years prepaid fuel cards to reimburse them for the discrepancy they experienced in fuel economy compared to what appeared on the cars' window stickers.
The agency's investigation into Hyundai and Kia is continuing, and it could seek civil penalties over misstated claims. A U.S. Senate Committee is also monitoring the situation and lawsuits are pending.
The EPA told The News last week that hybrids in general show more variability in mileage per gallon.
"There's absolutely no doubt: A hybrid is going to be far more variable than a conventional vehicle," said Linc Wehrly, director of light-duty vehicle center compliance division at the EPA's Ann Arbor laboratory, told The News.
"If you said that I could operate in EV-mode until 60 miles an hour for a period of time, you go a long portion on (the EPA) test cycle without the engine going on. That's going to improve your fuel economy."
The C-Max and Fusion hybrids are among six new hybrids and electric cars Ford is fielding this year and next in an effort to advance in a market dominated by Toyota. CEO Alan Mulally has made fuel economy a cornerstone of his turnaround plan.
Ford is counting on the redesigned Fusion to challenge the Toyota Camry, the top-selling car in the U.S. for the last 10 years. Ford has loaded new technology into the 2013 Fusion, which went on sale in October, and stresses that its hybrid version's 47 mpg is more than the Camry hybrid's 40 mpg. The 2013 Fusion was named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal last month.
Consumer Reports released its findings on Thursday.
"This is the largest discrepancy that we've seen," Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports auto test chief, said in an interview. "Hopefully the EPA and Ford can look into this. It's important to get to the bottom of this and make sure that the claimed fuel economy is going to be what consumers find in the real world."
"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," Wes Sherwood, a Ford spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. "Driving styles, driving conditions and other factors can cause mileage to vary."
Consumer Reports, which doesn't accept ads, said it bought Fusion and C-Max hybrids from a local dealership and drove them "2,000 break-in miles," before testing. The magazine installed a "precision fuel meter" in each car's fuel line.
To test city driving, the magazine drove the cars through a standard course on its Connecticut test track at specific speeds with multiple stops and predetermined idle time. For highway testing, the cars were driven each way at 65 mph on the same stretch of highway.
Sherwood said gauges and other "eco-coaching" technology on the Ford hybrid models can teach drivers to optimize fuel economy.
"We expect a wider range of performance will lead to opportunities to get a wider range of fuel economy figures," Sherwood said. "We will continue to work with our customers, Consumer Reports and any others who have questions about how our hybrids are different."
Despite the shortfall, the Fusion was the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan hybrid Consumer Reports tested, topping the Camry hybrid by 1 mpg, Fisher said. The Camry hybrid, which averaged 38 mpg in the magazine's tests, fell just 2 mpg short of Toyota's claim of 40 mpg, Fisher said.
"Eighty percent of the vehicles we tested are within 2 mpg of EPA estimates," Fisher said, referring to the agency's estimates for fuel economy. The Fusion and C-Max "are still excellent vehicles when it comes to fuel economy. They are not gas guzzlers, but they're certainly not matching the advertised claims."
Consumer Reports tests yielded similar results to other media evaluations and with complaints consumers have made on the U.S. government's www.fueleconomy.gov Web site. Bloomberg reviewer Jason H. Harper reported Nov. 15 that he averaged 36.9 mpg in the Fusion hybrid he drove, though he blamed that on his "leaden foot." Automotive News reporter Larry Vellequette had a similar finding in his Oct. 29 blog.
"There are dozens of people already that have reported on the fueleconomy.gov site showing much less than the EPA estimates," Fisher said.
"So if you go out and purchase a vehicle with the expressed purpose of getting that 47 mpg and you don't get it, you'll be dissatisfied. It certainly could impact sales."
In the Hyundai-Kia case, the EPA said the two automakers would put new mileage labels on "the majority of their 2012 and 2013 models," reducing average mpg ratings by 1 to 2 miles.
Kia's Soul wagon was the furthest off, revising highway mileage downward by 6 mpg.
"There is an arms race when it comes to fuel economy," Fisher said. "There certainly is a lot of emphasis on these fuel economy numbers and getting them as high as possible."
Automotive News staff contributed to this report.
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