Ford seeks best real-world mileage measurements
Carmakers that figure out the best ways to help consumers measure their real-world fuel economy could enjoy a competitive advantage, Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.'s global marketing chief, said today in a speech at the New York auto show.
Seeing that opportunity, Ford will offer software developers $50,000 in prizes to develop apps that help consumers measure their fuel economy based on actual driving behavior via their mobile devices, he said. Ford will open one of its software platforms to developers to use as a "sandbox" for testing innovative ideas, Farley said.
Competing fuel economy claims by manufacturers have overwhelmed and confused consumers, he said.
Ford has been one of the most aggressive carmakers in making fuel economy claims. Some of those claims have been disputed by customers and by reviewers such as Consumer Reports magazine.
Hybrids fall short
Two of Ford's hybrid models fell 17 percent to 21 percent short of the company's promise of combined city/highway 47 mpg in tests by Consumer Reports, as reported in December. The Ford Fusion Hybrid achieved 39 mpg while the C-Max Hybrid averaged 37 mpg in tests of city and highway driving, the magazine said.
Farley said fuel economy in hybrids seems particularly variable depending on consumers' driving habits.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines after his speech, Farley said: "We're really excited to work with the EPA to find what is the best way for consumers to get fuel economy ratings across all the brands, especially around this issue of behavior. It just seems like hybrids are more sensitive to behavior and conditions" such as temperature and tire pressure.
All best in class
"We now have a torrent of best-in-class claims hitting consumers from all sides, and it is starting to become noise," Farley said.
"If there's 92 kids in a 100-kid class that are best in class, what does 'best in class' mean anymore? If everyone is saying my car in this subsegment within this segment in the city or on the highway is best in class and everyone is saying that, then the customers are confused."
In December, Ford said it was talking to the EPA about whether changing powertrain technology should require a change in the EPA's methods of testing mpg.
Farley became the second carmaker executive at the New York auto show to address the issue of fuel economy claims.
On Tuesday, Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said in a speech that dubious marketing tarnishes the industry's reputation.
'Putting blinders on'
What with "conflicting stories about mpg claims, pickup tow ratings, safety statements and other issues, we really can't blame customers for not fully trusting any of the marketing we put out there," Carter told the audience at the 2013 Automotive Forum, an industry conference sponsored by J.D. Power and Associates and the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Without citing specific examples, Carter said suspect claims make it harder for any company's message to resonate with consumers because "they're putting blinders on" once they sense that a message can't be trusted.
Mike Colias and Bloomberg contributed to this report
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