Washington -- Ford Motor Co. has agreed to drop the fuel economy rating on the 2013 C-Max hybrid crossover from a combined 47 mpg to 43 mpg -- a nearly 10 percent reduction -- and will compensate owners for the worse-than-promised fuel economy.
Ford said it will pay 32,000 customers for the gas-mileage discrepancy. Those who purchased vehicles will receive $550; those who leased will get $325. Raj Nair, group vice president, global product development at Ford, said in an interview Thursday that the automaker didn't want to make customers go to a dealership to prove how many miles they had driven to get the payment.
It means Ford will pay between $10 million and $17 million, depending on how many of the vehicles were leased.
The decision came following Environmental Protection Agency testing completed last week.
Under the EPA's rules, in place since 1977, Ford was able to assign the same mileage rating to the C-Max as the Fusion hybrid sedan, which also has a 47 mpg rating, because they are in the same family of vehicles. While the protocol has worked for conventional vehicles, it has not been as effective for hybrids, officials said.
Aerodynamic differences between the C-Max and Fusion largely account for the difference, the EPA said. "Ford didn't do anything wrong. They followed the minimum testing requirements that EPA requires," said Christopher Grundler, who heads the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality. "EPA certainly allows and there are others who put unique labels on different variants."
But the EPA said the C-Max was the only hybrid on the market that hadn't undergone its own test. Toyota for example, chose to separately test all of its Prius family of cars separately.
In a statement, the EPA said it would look at rewriting rules for hybrid systems that are used across multiple vehicles "to ensure that consumers are consistently given the accurate fuel economy information on which they have come to rely."
Ford said Thursday it doesn't plan to change the fuel economy rating for the Fusion hybrid or any of its other vehicles.
C-Max software updated
In July, Ford said it would update software on hybrid vehicles to improve the real-world fuel efficiency for tens of thousands of owners of its Ford Fusion, C-Max and Lincoln MKZ hybrids.
Nair announced the updates, which include increasing the electric-only mode top speed to 85 miles per hour from 62 mph, and optimizing active grille shutters to reduce aerodynamic drag.
The EPA said its testing showed the 2013 C-Max before the upgrades had a combined 41 mpg rating, well below the 47 mpg that was advertised.
Last week, EPA completed testing on the 2013 C-Max with new software and moved quickly to get out the information that the car should have been rated at 43 mpg.
That latest testing led to Ford's agreement to lower the fuel economy rating.
The EPA emphasized that the Dearborn-based automaker followed the government-specified procedures to reach fuel economy numbers for the 2013 C-Max hybrid.
Ford hasn't completed testing to set a rating for the 2014 C-Max hybrid, which will go on sale yet this year.
Fuel efficiency complaints
Many Ford owners have complained they have not achieved the 47 mpg average for the C-Max hybrid (45 mpg for the MKZ hybrid) that was certified by the EPA.
Ford has faced multiple lawsuits from owners over its fuel efficiency claims. Redlands, Calif., law firm McCuneWright, which on behalf of "hundreds" of C-Max and Fusion hybrid owners is seeking punitive damages because of potentially overinflated fuel-efficiency claims, said in February it would consolidate with a similar lawsuit filed by a San Diego-based law firm. Ford declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
When Consumer Reports tested the C-Max hybrid late last year, it found the C-Max hybrid's fuel efficiency fell 10 miles per gallon short of what the window sticker promised.
The magazine said it averaged 37 mpg overall, with 35 mpg for city driving and 38 mpg highway.
The Fusion hybrid, certified for the same 47 mpg, got 39 mpg overall in testing, with 35 mpg city and 41 mpg highway.
Government testing requires vehicles to undergo standard fuel-efficiency trials; the testing, however, is not administered by the EPA. Automakers do the testing, but the EPA often conducts reviews. The EPA has increased its own testing in the past year.
In November, Hyundai and Kia Motors -- two Korean automakers controlled by the same conglomerate -- admitted overstating mileage on nearly 1.1 million vehicles in North America sold since 2010, including about 900,000 in the United States. The automakers set aside about $400 million to compensate drivers for the mileage difference and to resolve lawsuits filed by buyers.
The EPA's investigation into the Hyundai and Kia fuel-efficiency overstatement is ongoing. The agency may seek civil fines over the misstated claims. The EPA's Grundler declined to comment on that investigation Thursday.