The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may go back to the proverbial drawing board to figure out how to best test and rate plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and extended-range plug-ins after certain Ford models were tested for less-than-advertised fuel economy, reports the USA Today.

The publication quoted Chris Grundler, the regulator's director of the office of transportation and air quality, saying that one major challenge is measuring all-electric driving range in a plug-in hybrid because such a range can swing wildly based on driving styles and other conditions. That means that vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid may receive adjustments to their testing methods going forward.

The EPA's reconsideration marks continued fallout from tests by Consumer Reports and groups like CleanMPG, which found Ford's Fusion and C-Max hybrids to get real-world fuel economy that was lower than the models' official mile-per-gallon EPA ratings.

Meanwhile, last month, Automotive News quoted a senior engineer at the EPA saying that the regulator may increase its number of audits to better guard against potential overstatements of fuel economy. That issue became all the more relevant after Hyundai and its Kia affiliate needed to reduce fuel-economy figures on a bunch of their models late last year, forcing the companies to set aside about $412 million for customer refunds stemming from the mileage overstatements.


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  • 40 Comments
      Smurf
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think the EPA needs to update "all" of its testing including ICE testing... But... With the Sequestor, the EPA would have to do go through the process or redesigning all the testing with less money available...... Doesn't sound that realistic to me...
      Grendal
      • 1 Year Ago
      Has there been an issue with the electric range on cars? The problem has come from the gasoline side of the equation. The reality is that Ford and Hyundai are fudging their MPG not their MPGe. A general hybrid like the Prius and the C-Max are really just gasoline cars and should be judged like any other gas car. The consequences of fudging the numbers is exactly what we've seen, upset customers and lost credibility. The manufacturer then gets sued and loses money and even more credibility. This is a short term gain for a long term loss.
        Ford Future
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Grendal
        The Prius, it seems, is better designed for highway aerodynamics, and lighter, with smaller batteries.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      Too complicated. Only two figures are needed. One kwh per mile on electric. The other mpg when the electric runs out. it is then up to people to work out their own usage pattern. Anything else includes too many arbitrary assumptions.
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        DaveMart -- Maybe in 20 years the public might be ready. But before the EPA put out the current window stickers for EV's and PHEV's, they did exhaustive panel studies with typical drivers. The results were overwhelming. The panel members overwhelmingly said they didn't know what a kWh was. When asked if they wanted to learn what a kWh was, they overwhelmingly said no they did not even want to learn what a kWh was. Every study group all said they wanted something that allowed them to compare electric use to MPG as directly as possible, exactly so they wouldn't have to do the math you talked about. You and I might want to geek out on the math, but the EPA's goal is to provide information for the general population. And they overwhelmingly said they don't want what you and I might want.
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @raktmn
          I think all of us who are EV fans and have the math skills and knowledge of kWh are just going to have to get used to the EPA's formula for MPGe and get good at converting to Miles per kWh ourselves. Or just be happy with the kWh/100 mile numbers that the EPA also provides along with the MPGe rating. The EPA's formula when calculating MPGe is 1 gallon of gasoline=33.7 kWh. To figure out miles per kWh, just run the formula in reverse.
          Actionable Mango
          • 1 Year Ago
          @raktmn
          kWh is a cumbersome and technical sounding name. We should just slap a friendlier label on it like "Zot" but keep the value the same. Then it would be Miles Per Zot, or MPZ.
        mylexicon
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        I tend to agree, but is change too complicated for the general public? They can scarcely understand the socio-economic justification for owning a hybrid, let alone the technological complexities of how they work.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        Exaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaactly.
        paulwesterberg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        kWh per mile at what speed? I think you still need to list the available electric capacity since some vehicles may draw down their battery more than others, ie the volt's 16kWh battery may only allow 12-14kWh to be used before switching to gas.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        Fuel economy can vary a lot based on driving style and conditions too. I can lug my 4 banger at 1,500rpm along a 50mph road and blow the EPA fuel economy figure out of the water. Now if i take the highway at 75mph with the AC on, i get awful fuel economy and the motor is spinning at around 3,500rpm, like 10mpg less.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        I somewhat over simplifies in order to show that is makes no sense to meld petrol and electric figures into one. Clearly there would, for instance, still be urban and highway figures when running on petrol, although in cars which enable you to determine when you use all electric and have a decent EV range the former may be somewhat moot. Similarly there are all sorts of ways to further break down the electric figures. My point is though that trying to make one combined figure is a nonsense, and there are two distinct modes which should be kept distinct.
        gypsyrecs
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        can't the kwt per mile also vary wildly based on driving style/conditions?
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        @joe: At least they will be aware of the imprecision. Presenting the figures as one number is wholly misleading, about as sensible as, if asked what the weather will be like in the summer, the reply is 'sunny'.
        joeboarder108
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        Highway or city for the kwh/m? highway or city for mpg? what about total battery capacity? You're asking buyers to do a lot of math in their heads.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        I think the public copes quite well with, say, being told that they are going to get around 30 miles for 12 kwh of electricity, and once they are on petrol will get around 40mpg. They can adjust that pretty easily to fit their situation 'near enough' What they have not got a clue about is when told something like the average is 200mpg over both petrol and electric, as it is impossible to adjust that readily to an individual usage pattern. I can't blame them, as I have not got a clue how to adjust the figure so it means something in real world use either. Its gobbledegook, and entirely worthless.
      Rob Mahrt
      • 1 Year Ago
      How about anonymous pulls from all car on board computers straight into a database and averaged out and published yearly, opposed to one EPA number on a specific course? Wouldn't this produce the best possible information for educated buyers to make educated decisions? A fuelly.com, but with manufacturer validation and mass communication?
      chanonissan
      • 1 Year Ago
      That means there is a flaw EPA testing procedure, and Ford would not exactly be telling a lie, but given the results obtain following the procedure outline by EPA.
      Greg
      • 1 Year Ago
      I would simply like to have the current EPA city figure + a plot of steady-state mpg versus speed. That would tell me which speed gives the best mpg & how fast it drops off above it.
      Electron
      • 1 Year Ago
      That's odd, the problem was with the regular hybrid versions of C-max and Fusion, yet the test procedure is changed just for the plug-in hybrids? That doesn't sound right, nor does the source article suggest this.
        Nick
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Electron
        This author of this article is giving a very inaccurate and misleading summary of the original article, which concerns problems with pure hybrid vehicles (NOT plug-ins) which can achieve higher all-electric speeds. The C-Max must have begun its EPA test with a full battery, run it down during the test and ended the test with a depleted battery. In other words, Ford gamed the test. The point of any changes to the test is to make it impossible to engage in such shenanigans. The quality of 'journalism' on this site is pretty sad--can't even paraphrase another site's copy accurately.
          throwback
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Nick
          How is starting the test with a full battery gaming the test? Does the EPA specifiy that the battery must be run down, or at 50% capacity? If they do not, then Ford followed the rules as applied by the EPA. The EPA (apperently) realizes they need to modify the test to provide somwhat more realistic numbers for hybrids. I don't blame Ford for making their cars so they perform well on the EPA test, why wouldn't they?
          JakeY
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Nick
          @throwback It's gaming the test because it adds energy content that isn't part of the gasoline into the MPG figure. Basically the total energy in the car is the gas+whatever is stored in the battery. Over a long test it won't matter much, but over a short test it can be significant. Each EPA test is about 10 miles long. The C-Max hybrid's 1.4kWh battery is enough to let it drive ~4 miles on battery alone. That's enough to boost the mileage over the cycle by 40%, which is significant. That means a 47 mpg rating may actually become 34mpg instead if the battery was not fully charged at the start, which actually seems to match quite well with the "real world" results.
          Electron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Nick
          Yes, starting the test with a full battery and ending it with a depleted one was also my hunch about the cause of the massive deviation between EPA and real world MPG numbers. If so Ford's position in the lawsuit doesn't sound particularly strong to me. They might want to settle... ...and maybe the author of this article might want to update it somewhat so it actually makes any sense.
          canuckinaz
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Nick
          The EPA 5-cycle test DOES already take the change in energy of the battery into account. Check out the SAE J1711 (June 2010) document. In it, a parameter called the "Net Energy Change Tolerance" is defined, and it cannot be exceeded for any test. There is no indication that Ford cheated on this aspect of the test, so this is all pure speculation.
          Ford Future
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Nick
          I think that's a good suggestion, the hybrid battery might be set at 50 or 60% of capacity before the test. We're looking for real world numbers. Or, they need a longer hillier loop. My drive into work 10 miles is down hill and my hybrid battery is at 100% of capacity when I arrive. When I drive home it's soon depleted, 1/3rd of the way, then the hybrid has to scavenge from the engine, or wait for regen braking to catch up.
      mylexicon
      • 1 Year Ago
      "The probe centers on a generation of hybrids capable of highway speeds on electric power alone. Chris Grundler, EPA's director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said he wants to be sure the EPA's testing procedures are keeping up with rapidly evolving auto technology." I'm not really sure of the author's or editor's motivation for the headline, but this USA Today article is vindication for all of the people who understood the difference between the problems with Hyundai/Kia (enforcement) and Ford (technological complexity and EPA test inadequacy). It was clear that Ford were able to make the EPA test work for them by raising the all-electric speed capability of their hybrids. The higher all-electric speed threshold allowed them to maximize the fuel economy over the short EPA testing cycle. Demanding that Ford engineers voluntarily temper their achievements with fudge factors and real world adjustments was never a realistic expectation, particularly with CAFE 2025 compliance on the horizon. I'm glad to hear the EPA is re-evaluating their test methods, though I do sympathize with the technological quandary in which the EPA finds itself. It seems that the easiest way to align the test numbers and real world numbers is to extend the testing cycles; however, if the EPA extend the testing cycle to cancel the short-term benefits of exploiting high-speed all electric power for hybrids, according to what technological imperative or legal imperative do they have the right to capture such benefits for plug-in vehicles? To further complicate matters, consumers generally understand that plug-ins only deliver max efficiency over short distances (thus no one has complained), but hybrid consumers appear to be less willing to accept this limitation. Can the EPA really apply different testing methods simply b/c consumer expectations are different for plug-ins and conventional hybrids? This is not an easy situation. I hope Grundler has the professional competency to tackle this challenge.
      Harris
      • 1 Year Ago
      Correction. That is 60/62 miles per charge
      cointel
      • 1 Year Ago
      They need to revise the mileage for all cars. They need a city, highway, and traffic mileage where EV, hybrids, start/stop would shine and convince more of the buying public to consider these cars. These cars are also not producing pollution during this time. If you are sitting in traffic for 30-45 minutes, it is making even the most fuel efficient ICE produce poor mileage results. You car is burning fuel to maintain 750 rpm while traffic is inching along. It is also stuck in 1st, the worst mileage gear. The DOE also provides annual fuel costs, when it really needs to take the purchase price of a cars utilizing a hypothetical interest rate and calculate the loan payment plus monthly fuel costs. This is how most people think, rather than yearly. An expensive electric plus lower fuel costs may be more affordable to a buyer than a cheaper ICE with $4.00 gas.
        Ele Truk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @cointel
        Either that, or change the definition of city driving. More stop and go and less constant low speed driving. Hybrids and EVs wouldn't change much but ICE only vehicles would dive in city MPG. I looked at the FTP cycle: http://www.epa.gov/OMS/sftp.htm#cycles, and the longest stop is about 40 seconds, and there are about half under 10 seconds. How realistic is that for city driving? This dyno test is 11 miles long, takes just over 31 minutes to complete, involves 23 stops, reaches a top speed of 56 mph, and has maximum acceleration equivalent to a lazy, 18-second 0-to-60-mph run.
      • 1 Year Ago
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      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      The EPA test procedure works when applied correctly. The problem is that these companies stand to make a lot more sales if they have higher mileage numbers. Lying is way cheaper than engineering lighter, more aerodynamic, more efficient vehicles. Have the EPA test all vehicles so car makers are forced to focus on improving their vehicles.
        joeboarder108
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        where is the EPA supposed to get the money to do that with their already-small budget getting cut by the sequester?
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @joeboarder108
          The EPA is only getting a 5% cut from their $8.34 Billion dollar budget. http://insideepa.com/Inside-EPA-General/Public-Content-ACC/sequester-order-cuts-epa-less-than-anticipated-but-key-programs-hit/menu-id-1026.html The current budget for the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification Program is around $90 million, and the EPA had asked for a small increase (total $10 million) for the program in 2013. Of that, about $2 million was set aside for making improvements in the testing/certification process. "$1.8 million of the request will bolster the EPA’s certification and compliance testing programs, which are struggling to keep up with an increase in demand for EPA vehicle and engine certifications, increasing diversity of sophisticated technologies, and an expanding universe of engines to monitor, particularly in the area of imported small engines. " http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/2B686066C751F34A852579A4007023C2/$File/FY2013_BIB.pdf
        throwback
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Are you saying Fords hybrids did not get the published numbers on the EPA test? My understanding is they do get the numbers on the EPA test only, and that is the issue.
        mylexicon
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        If all they needed to do was lie, why did Ford incur great expense to develop new vehicles and increase the electric-only capability of their hybrid vehicles? If you blame companies for stuff they haven't done, no one will listen when the public actually catches them in a lie.
        Greg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        The EPA may not be able to do all trims & options, but they can easily do one for each new model each year.
          Ele Truk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Greg
          I hope you realize that EPA generally trusts manufacturers on the results, EPA actually tests only about %15 of all new cars each year (about 250 models total, so 38 actual tests), the rest is submitted from the car manufacturers. And they probably don't choose the cars to test on suspicion of results, more likely just pulled out of a hat.
        Actionable Mango
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        ANY test procedure that is well-defined can be gamed by tweaking hundreds of factors to specifically target better numbers in that test. Naturally this results in worse numbers in real life, except for the slim few that happen to drive exactly like the test. Someone else here had an idea that I kinda like. The first year uses EPA estimates, every subsequent year posts an average of actual car results, mined from OBD data every time a car gets serviced, emissions tested, or inspected. Then you can get local results, too. Because let's face it, MPG and EV range will be very different for drivers in, for example, Alaska, Washington D.C., and Texas.
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