The all-new Ford C-Max Hybrid that goes on sale this fall is now EPA-certified at 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined. This makes it the first hybrid car without a window sticker that lists a decline in highway fuel economy ratings. Whether this is real or the product of carefully calibrating the C-Max to the EPA test cycle awaits independent verification.
EPA economy ratings, of course, have repeatedly been criticized by drivers, and ultimately adjusted downward for all automakers a couple of times by the federal agency. Ford is apparently benefiting from the latest lithium ion battery composition and electronic controls that allow a maximum electronic speed of 62 mph, technology that will also be rolled into competing hybrids. Hybrid leader Toyota is notable in its continued reliance on older technology nickel metal hydride batteries, where it has a significant cost and thus far proven durability advantages.
Ford, like all other automakers, is badly behind Toyota, which dominates the global hybrid market, and is hoping that the fuel economy and a base price starting at $25,995 that undercuts Toyota Prius Liftback and Prius v by $500 to $1,300 will jump start sales. The roughly comparable in size Prius v is rated in 2012 at 44 city, 40 highway, 42 mpg combined. The smaller Liftback is rated at 51city, 48 highway, 50 mpg combined. Is this enough of a Ford difference to matter in the market?
The C-Max itself is a respected vehicle. More than 160,000 units of the gasoline version of the C-Max have been sold in Europe since its 2010 revision. Ford originally planned to bring the larger 7-passenger versions of the crossover vans to the U.S., but has since scaled the program back to a small volume 5-passenger hybrid conversion program. (Ford Kills U.S. Gas C-Max Van. Smaller Hybrids Now Due in 2012) C-Max is really a minivan version of the Focus, and one of several electrified vehicles Ford plans to produce in North America in 2012. In addition to C-Max, the other vehicles include Focus Electric, Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.
The C-Max has a high roofline of 63.9 inches, which allows the claim of 99.7 cubic feet of passenger space compared with 97 cubic feet in Prius v. The C-Max Hybrid also provides greater headroom in both front and rear seats than Prius v (41/39.4 inches vs. 39.6/38.6 inches). For cargo, C-Max Hybrid has 60/40 split-fold rear seats that easily fold flat, with 54.3 cubic feet of space behind the first row and 24.5 cubic feet behind the second row.
Prius was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid gas-electric vehicle, and in its third generation is unquestionably the most successful hybrid, which continues to give Toyota a halo reputation – worth billions – as an environmentally responsible and innovative company. With other makers now offering dozens upon dozens of hybrids, the technology will be the near term solution to increasing fuel economy in the U.S.