Ford Motor Co. is talking to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about how it tests fuel economy performance on new vehicles following reports that the automaker's hybrids are falling short of mileage promises.
"We will continue to talk on behalf of the industry with the EPA to determine if changes are necessary," Joe Hinrichs, chief of Ford's operations in North and South America, told reporters in Detroit. The EPA "has made changes over the last couple of decades as technology has changed."
Ford's two newest hybrid models fell 17 percent to 21 percent short of the company's promise of 47 miles (76 kilometers) per gallon in tests by Consumer Reports. The Ford Fusion hybrid achieved 39 mpg while the C-Max hybrid averaged 37 mpg in tests of city and highway driving, the Yonkers, New York- based magazine said in a statement this month.
Ford isn't asking the EPA to make any specific modifications to its mileage testing procedures, Hinrichs said.
Sales of Ford's hybrids haven't been hurt by the controversy surrounding the real world mileage reviewers are getting in those models, Hinrichs said.
"We're seeing great sales," Hinrichs said. "We follow the EPA test guidelines and we're proud of the fuel economy and technology in our vehicles."
Ford sold 4,848 C-Max hybrids last month, a 52 percent gain compared with October, its first full month of sales. The company sold 1,834 Fusion hybrids in November, up from 993 a year earlier, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
Ford fell 1.5 percent to $11.10 at the close in New York.
The C-Max and Fusion hybrids are among six new hybrids and electric cars Ford is fielding this year and next in an effort to advance in a market dominated by Toyota Motor Corp. Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made fuel economy a cornerstone of his turnaround plan.
Hybrids are highly sensitive to driving styles, which can lower performance by as much as 17 miles per gallon, Raj Nair, Ford's product development chief, said at a presentation at Ford Field, home of the National Football League's Detroit Lions.
"We've designed our hybrids to drive exactly the same as our other vehicles" by giving them more horsepower than Toyota's Prius line of hybrid vehicles, Nair said. "It makes them more sensitive to spirited driving."
Nair said his performance fell by 12 mpg when he drove Ford's C-Max hybrid the same as he drives his Mustang Shelby Cobra sports car.
"We absolutely agree with the EPA that hybrids are far more variable in test cycles" than traditional cars, Nair said.
Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has upgraded an investigation covering some 2008-2010 Ford Fusions, Lincoln MKZs and Mercury Milans. Unsecured mats may interfere with the accelerator pedal returning to idle, the agency said.
"Drivers allege continued high engine power after releasing the accelerator pedal and difficulty braking," NHTSA said in a statement on its website.
The investigation covers about 480,000 cars, NHTSA said in a different statement today its website. No crashes or injuries have been reported, though some drivers said they had to shift into neutral or turn off the engine to slow down, according to the agency. NHTSA began examining complaints in May 2010.
"We were disappointed by NHTSA's upgrade of this investigation, particularly since the condition under investigation relates to improperly installed, unsecured or double stacked floor mats, but we will continue to cooperate fully with the agency through this process," Susan Krusel, a Ford spokeswoman, said.