“Your mileage may vary.”
Consumers have heard that disclaimer, seen it and understood it. They’re not stupid.
The EPA estimates on window stickers have long been a sort of gentleman’s agreement among manufacturers, regulators and consumers. They are estimates, after all, a comparative tool, and not intended as absolute numbers.
But Ford’s approach to the C-Max Hybrid’s ratings was a gross violation of that covenant and an insult to consumers.
The mpg numbers the company applied to the sticker bore little resemblance to real-world fuel economy because they reflected the results of a different vehicle, the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Then Ford launched an aggressive marketing campaign to knock its competitors, based on a number that the C-Max never achieved in testing.
Yes, Ford’s sleight of hand was allowed under current regulations. (The EPA has sheepishly acknowledged that and vowed to close the loophole.)
But Ford ought to have recognized the absurdity of lumping the C-Max together with the Fusion Hybrid, while it sought a separate rating for the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, a vehicle that’s slightly heavier but otherwise equivalent to the Fusion.
The world’s automakers are in an exciting engineering race to reach ambitious federal fuel economy targets. In many cases, that goal has brought out the best in the industry’s competitors and innovators. But in Ford’s case — and Hyundai’s before it — it has also exposed a dark side: a desire to win at any cost, even if it means deceiving the consumer. Even if it means tiptoeing up to the boundaries of the law.
Ford has made real progress in becoming a leader in the hybrid fuel economy sweepstakes. The company didn’t need to game the system to prove that point.