• Mar 1st 2013 at 12:28PM
  • 87
A law firm is seeking damages on behalf of C-Max owners... A law firm is seeking damages on behalf of C-Max owners due to potentially overinflated fuel-efficiency claims (Ford).
When Ford launched its all-new C-Max hybrid last fall, it was meant to be the automaker's big challenge to Toyota's Prius, which has has been far and away the leader in hybrid sales with the strongest brand.

But there are mounting complaints against the C-Max. It's not for the way the car drives, or looks (AOL Autos recommends the car), but rather how difficult it is to achieve the lofty 47 mpg fuel economy the company advertises. Numerous people on owner forums report getting significantly lower fuel economy than expected. And two California law firms have consolidated lawsuits against Ford alleging the company's C-Max marketing campaign is misleading.

Redlands, Calif.-based law firm McCuneWright is seeking punitive damages on behalf of hundreds of C-Max owners because of potentially overinflated fuel-efficiency claims, and said it will consolidate with a similar lawsuit filed by San Diego-based Robbins, Geller, Rudman and Dowd.

AOL Autos has tested the C-Max this past week, and this is what we found. In principal, it is possible to reach something like 47 mpg, and we have found several owners on Internet forums such as www.fordcmaxhybridforum.com and www.cmaxhybridowners.com who have done so. But we never did achieve close to 47 mpg in our week of driving in and around Ann Arbor, MI and commuting a few times on the highway to Detroit Metro Airport and the AOL office in Birmingham some 50 miles away.

Ford's chief engineer on the C-Max John Davis explained to us that several factors can hold fuel economy back from reaching the magic 47 mpg. During the break-in period of a new C-Max, fuel economy can be held back by a good 5 mpg. Cold weather can retard fuel economy by another 5 or so mpg. Maintaining a cabin temperature of around 72-degrees, while it is 40 degrees or below outside, for example, can hurt fuel economy because the engine will be cycling more often to keep the cabin warm. Driving above 70 mph will also hold back fuel economy.

In order to actually reach 47 mph in the C-Max Hybrid, says Davis, it requires that the driver be very engaged in a series of driving habits and inputs to maximize fuel economy, including a lot of letting up on the throttle, not punching the accelerator and keeping speed below 60 mph. But Davis concedes, "Not everybody wants to drive that way."

AOL Autos achieved an average of 32 mpg after six days of mixed driving. The temperature was frequently below 30-degrees, and we did keep the cabin between 65-72. We did not set out to maximize the fuel economy, and probably could not have, given the weather in Michigan in February. We just drove it in a way that we thought was normal.

The power of advertising

Advertising 47 mpg is very important to Ford even if relatively few people can or will achieve it. "Fuel economy is probably the most important headline we can advertise," said Ford's global marketing chief James Farley at the launch of the C-Max. "When you can lead in fuel economy, consumers translate that to quality."

Ford's Davis says he does not believe Ford will let up the throttle on advertising the 47 mpg claim, because, "it is possible and we have seen and talked with a lot of owners who are getting it." Davis also said that Ford complied fully with the Environmental Protection Agency regulations for stating fuel economy.

Rich McCune of McCuneWright told the The Detroit News that his firm has received hundreds of complaints from C-Max owners. The suit originated with the experiences of Richard Pitkin of Roseville, Calif., who purchased a C-Max Hybrid in October. Pitkin says he averaged only 37 miles per gallon -- much lower than the EPA estimate.

Ford is not the first to be targeted by lawyers or to receive complaints about fuel economy. Hyundai and Kia in recent months have given owners credit cards for gas to make up for differences between advertised fuel economy and real-world fuel economy that the companies admitted resulted from flawed testing. Toyota, too, has been the target of class-action lawyers making similar clams against the Prius going back to 2004.

One of the reasons, says Ford's Davis, that the C-Max's 47 mpg is tricky to achieve is that the car was engineered for more driving fun and power than, for example, Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid. "We engineered in better driving characteristics to the C-Max than our competition has, and our customers tell us they like having the options," says Davis.

In other words, the C-Max allows true high-fuel-economy "geeks" to do all the things recommended to maximize fuel economy (and there are dashboard read-outs that tell the driver how they are doing and how they can do better), or the car will respond to sudden needs of acceleration and being tossed around like a BMW. The Prius is a notoriously joyless car to drive unless the owner is all about fuel economy.

C-Max so far is not a barn-burner for Ford. It sold 3,183 in February, about half as many Mustangs it sold last month. But C-Max is a new brand, and the car is still in its launch period.

For Ford, the trick going forward will be meeting and managing its customers' expectations.


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  • 87 Comments
      Ron Wizard
      • 2 Years Ago
      Even 2 safety pins on the front seat is enough to change the mpg outcome.
      lr27048
      • 2 Years Ago
      Im lost here? Do the fuel prices go up with the level of economy vehicles are able to get? I must have missed something? It's all BS.
      jwyola
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ahhhhh.. You are so smugly self satisfied owning your first environmentally friendly vehicle since your bicycle and scooter days. It goes fast on the road, not spewing dirty carbon into the atmosphere. Supposedly the car is getting 47+ miles per gallon of evil gasoline. Now you discover that may not be true... Oh Sorry Days...only get 39 miles per evil gallon. Suprise!!!!, You have one more Rubicon to cross. That pesky Lithium Battery that powers your toy becomes Hazardous Waste when eventually it dies. OHHH, but you bought a Chevy Volt.. You are totally, environmentally clean.. Yeayyyy!!!... Until you go to charge the battery....Essentially, you are plugging into a Coal, Oil, Nuclear, Hydro, mybe 1% wind and solar combined power source. Ho does it feel burning all of that excess coal and oil? Nuclear would be fantastic, but you hate Nukes. Hydro dams are blocking the migration of all of those fish populations you support. So you Volt Person, are operating a Coal Locomotive
        Lifes a Beach
        • 2 Years Ago
        @jwyola
        There's no such thing as 'totally environmentally clean', if you're alive then you're harming the environment. An unusually large % of Volt owners put solar on the roof, the savings in gas can actually pay for it, then the savings in the electric bill can offset the high price of the Volt. & ultimately, having traded into this from a Denali, let's say, you're much cleaner (& richer). GM is going to repurpose used batteries into off-grid solar systems that will extend the useful life of the battery another 10 years, keep watching. Volt=coal locomotive, that's pretty funny.
      Ray Malzo
      • 2 Years Ago
      I just sold my CMax for that precise reason. I could only attain 32 MPG from my car. I traded it in for the Cmax energi which cost 5K more, but it is not proving to be much better.
        hgeorgech
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ray Malzo
        you a glutten for punishment, or what? Buy a Schwinn ...
      • 2 Years Ago
      up to I saw the receipt saying $9618, I didnt believe that...my... cousin had been actualy bringing in money in there spare time on their computer.. there friend brother has done this less than twenty three months and by now cleared the loans on their place and bourt a new Mazda MX-5. go to.......... BIT40.ℂom
      jgesselberty
      • 2 Years Ago
      They are only taking a lead from our politicians. If you can't make the numbers, make the number lie.
      kulpw
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ford is the number 1 company at making excuses. Their service and cars were pretty good up through the '70's and then both quality and service took a nose dive. I bought my last one in '95 and they sealed themselves out with that one. I've since owned Toyotas and I'll tell the world I've been more than satisfied with their quality and service than I ever was with Ford. I can get 33 MPG driving through the mountains with four people in my Avalon traveling at 70 MPH. Two of the people were Ford owners and both said there next car will be a Toyota.
        AZ Stang
        • 2 Years Ago
        @kulpw
        lol- Toyota is Japanese for 'recall.' Hard to believe an 'expert' who hasn't owned one for 18 years.
      nelsendec
      • 2 Years Ago
      Those California drivers probably drive around like they're in a race; Accelerating and braking hard and have the AC on etc. I 've been to CA and see how people drive. I own a Ford Focus and can continually get MORE than the stated MPG. If those folks would take some driving classes and learn to operate frugally the efficiency would climb
      tsgrcels
      • 2 Years Ago
      From what I have read of the AOL Autos comments about Ford, it looks like AOL Autos wants to minimize Ford's accomplishments. Maybe the AOL people have GM stock. Or, maybe the AOL people are closet Democrats who are pissed that Ford turned around without BO's financial help.
      Docstu
      • 2 Years Ago
      More money hungry lawyers, the posted MPG rating says "your mileage may vary depending on ...." Besides the MPG rating is a GOVERNMENT estimate and we all know how accurate they are estimating anything.
      Pierce Michelson
      • 2 Years Ago
      before I looked at the paycheck that said $6229, I be certain that my mother in law was like they say really taking home money in there spare time at there labtop.. there aunt has been doing this less than 19 months and at present took care of the loans on their mini mansion and got audi. we looked here............ BIT40.com
      • 2 Years Ago
      Okay I will respond with a car fact for me both my Volkswagon car (2004) and CUV (2009) are getting about 1 mpg above their stated highway mpg on the average. That means the car is getting 32 mpg and the CUV is getting 27 mpg, respectively. for HAT1701D, there is a fuel stabilizer added in summer fuel to slow evaporation. At least that is how I understood it.
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