47 miles per gallon.
That was the fuel economy rating given by the EPA for Ford's new crossover SUV, the C-Max.
When I first learned of this rating, I was floored. Not only is 47 mpg a huge accomplishment, but it actually gave Ford a fighting chance against the long-held leader in hybrids, Toyota.
In fact, a few weeks ago I said that Ford's C-Max has officially catapulted the Detroit automaker to the status of “serious player” in the world of hybrids...
But maybe I spoke too soon.
Coming Up Short?
Last week Consumer Reports confirmed reports that Ford's C-Max was not delivering the impressive fuel economy being advertised.
While most folks are expecting a combined 47 mpg, Consumer Reports only got 37 mpg.
That's a pretty big disparity, and one that cannot be overlooked — especially as this comes on the heels of fuel economy miscalculations by Hyundai and Kia (and at the high end, those were only off by about 6 miles per gallon).
The result of those miscalculations?
Both car companies now have to compensate 900,000 U.S. owners and 172,000 owners in Canada. Estimates put the cost on this at around $100 million per year, likely for the next five to seven years.
Of course, Ford's C-Max is relatively new, and only a few thousand have been sold so far. But make no mistake; this is going to have a very serious effect on Ford's ability to sell these things. And there was definitely a lot riding on the C-Max.
In the Real World...
Consumer Reports isn't the only reputable publication to test the C-Max. Green Car Reports, which provides some of the best analysis on hybrid and electric vehicles, tested the C-Max, and got about 40 mpg — still seven miles shy of estimates.
Of course, there are a number of variables when it comes to fuel economy.
Certainly, if you've got the air condition blasting while speeding up and down hills, or you have a tendency to punch it from the start, you're not likely to get the best fuel economy. And this holds true with any type of car, hybrid or internal combustion...
But I'm still a bit skeptical.
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As I said, there's been more than one report of the C-Max not delivering the golden 47 miles per gallon (though few have been as reputable as Consumer Reports and Green Car Reports).
In response to the Consumer Reports piece, Ford issued the following response:
Early C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid customers praise the vehicles and report a range of economy figures, including some reports above 47 mpg. This reinforces the fact that driving style, driving conditions and other factors can cause mileage to vary.
This is true, and certainly I'd like to see some more “real world” data on the performance of the C-Max.
But for now, Ford has a real problem on its hands if it can't get enough folks to reproduce, or at least get much closer to, that 47 mpg claim...
For a vehicle of this nature, 37 mpg is nothing to write off. But it does put Ford back behind Toyota again, as the Prius V (a comparable hybrid vehicle in size, roominess and fuel economy) delivers 44 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. In the few reviews I've read of the Prius V, the low-end discrepancies seem to be only within the range of one to three miles.
One thing is certain, however: More and more consumers are demanding Prius-style fuel economy with larger sedans, SUV crossovers, and station wagons.
And this is definitely the direction in which we're heading — even with traditional internal combustion vehicles that are now being manufactured with all kinds of adjustments and new mechanisms to squeeze out a few more miles per gallon... Just look at the 2013 Nissan Altima, a mid-size, non-hybrid sedan delivering a fuel economy of 31 mpg.
This is the trend, folks. And it's going to really put the pressure on hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric manufacturers, as these higher-mpg internal combustion vehicles often come in at much lower price points.
But the worst thing any of these automakers can do right now is boast fuel economy standards that are simply unrealistic. This will do more harm than good.
The C-Max is actually a really nice car. I do hope the fuel economy issues on this one get worked out quickly.
To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth...
@JeffSiegel on Twitter
Jeff is the managing editor of Energy and Capital and contributing analyst for the Energy Investor, an independent investment research service focusing primarily on stocks in the oil & gas, modern energy and infrastructure markets. He has been a featured guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg Asia, and is the author of the best-selling book, Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor's page.
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