The Ford display at the New York International Auto Sho... The Ford display at the New York International Auto Show. (AP)
Ford Motor Co., stung in recent months over complaints that some of its hybrids are achieving fuel economy well below the advertised miles-per-gallon, said today it is enlisting help from hardware and software developers to help drivers figure out how to be more fuel-efficient.

The company said it's offering $50,000 to the computer nerds who can create apps that encourage drivers to change their behaviors behind the wheel.

Jim Farley, head of Ford's global marketing, said driver behavior can lead to drastically different fuel economy numbers.

"We have found that there are so many factors impacting the fuel economy people get, especially with hybrids across the industry, that we want to be the company that gives drivers the best tools to manage their own personal fuel economy," Farley said.

It is unusual for a car company to open up its engineering architectures and platforms to outsiders for fear of compromising intellectual property. Ford may be the first to open up both its hardware and software platforms to outsiders who want to pitch the company on new solutions to improve fuel economy.

Ford's own C-Max hybrid is advertised to get 47 mpg. But many members of the press (including AOL Autos) and the public have been complaining that the car does not get anything near that level in real-world driving. The 47 mpg is a number that was set by Ford testing the vehicles according to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Farley says that Ford is in talks with the EPA to modify the testing procedures, especially around hybrids. "Hybrids is where you see the most variability in how personal driving habits and weather conditions and other factors most greatly impact real-world fuel economy," says Farley. Weather and how aggressively a driver works the gas pedal are two big factors, he said.

Hyundai and Kia last year settled a dispute with customers and lawyers who filed a class action suit against the companies, which have related ownership in South Korea, over the fuel economy of its vehicles. The company issued cash cards to customers to make up for the real-world shortfall in the fuel economy they wee getting. Lawyers are organizing class actions against Ford, as well, over C-Max performance.

Ford, according to New York research firm Appinions, is the "most influential" brand in the auto industry on the topic of fuel economy. Additionally, Farley said the company's research shows that fuel economy credibility and performance is the number-one buying consideration among customers, especially women, who control or influence some 75% of all new-vehicle purchases.

Farley also hinted that the auto industry with or without help from government regulators, needed to clean up the often confusing fuel economy claims that companies advertise. Companies often advertise only the higher highway fuel economy, rather than the combined city and highway fuel economy of vehicles. Many advertise "Best In Class" fuel economy, "Most fuel efficient," and the like.

"If my kid is in a class of 100, and 93 are called 'best in class,' I start to wonder what the point of the designation is," said Farley.

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