DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is cutting the stated fuel-economy rating of its C-Max Hybrid car 8.5 percent to 43 mpg from 47 mpg -- a rare and costly move that Ford spent months feverishly working to avoid.
Ford has faced heavy criticism and lawsuits about worse-than-expected fuel economy for several new models, including the C-Max, whose window stickers have advertised 47 mpg for city, highway and combined driving. The ratings are based on tests Ford conducted and data it submitted to the EPA.
The company and EPA said the new rating on the C-Max will be 43 mpg combined, 45 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
Ford said today it will provide $550 to U.S. customers who purchased a C-Max and $325 to customers who have leased the vehicle. Some 32,000 C-Max owners are eligible for the payments, Ford said. Pricing for the C-Max hybrid starts at $25,995, including shipping.
C-Max customers will be notified by mail, Ford said, while dealers will relabel vehicles that remain unsold on lots.
U.S. sales of the C-Max this year have totaled 23,040 through July -- helping to boost Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. share of the alternative-powered vehicle market to 15 percent through July from 4 percent in the same period last year.
The EPA says it is not taking further action against Ford.
"Ford did not do anything illegal," Christopher Grundler, the head of the EPA's transportation office, said in an interview with Automotive News. "This is not an enforcement matter," he added.
In its initial public statement, the agency partly blamed its own fuel-economy labeling rules for cars -- some of which date to 1977 -- and pledged to update them.
Grundler said the agency will gather comments and update the labeling rules so they better reflect industry trends. As car companies have started selling more nameplates using the same powertrain, and cars have gotten more efficient, the risk of a discrepancy like the one found in the C-Max has grown.
He said the EPA could decide to make broader changes to fuel economy testing and labeling, if automakers and consumer advocates came to the agency with other ways to bring fuel economy estimates closer to real-world mpg.
"I know we have a common cause with automakers, based on the feedback I've already gotten," he said. "The automakers agree that preserving the integrity of these fuel economy labels is a paramount concern."
The EPA has not given any time frame for its rule updates.