Ford to offer free software upgrade for gas-electric hybrids

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid / Wieck

By Alisa Priddle

Detroit Free Press Business Writer

The 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid sedan is stickered to deliver 47 miles per gallon highway. / Wieck

Ford is responding to complaints that its gasoline-electric hybrids are not delivering advertised miles per gallon by offering owners a free software upgrade that should improve their real-worldfuel economy.

Letters will go out by the end of July to about 77,000 owners of the 2013 Ford C-Max, Fusion and Lincoln MKZ hybrids. They will be instructed to make an appointment with their dealers for a half-day of work adjusting the software at no charge. New 2014 models will have the upgrades done at the factory.

Ford made a big advertising splash last fall, boasting that the new Fusion hybrid had an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 47 m.p.g. for combined highway and city driving. The new C-Max hybrid also was stickered for 47 m.p.g. The Lincoln MKZ hybrid went on sale earlier this year with a rating of 45 m.p.g.

Many consumers reported they were unable to get close to those figures in their driving experience. Some owners joined class actions alleging the numbers represent false advertising on Ford’s part.

Raj Nair, Ford’s head of global product development, said the voluntary action is not related to the lawsuits, but rather is part of continuous improvement efforts.

He would not say how much better mileage will get nor did he estimate the cost of the dealer actions. But he did say the software changes will not change the EPA ratings and the government agency is aware of the program.

The calibrations are designed to reduce the variability of the mileage different drivers get on the road with hybrids, more so than with gasoline-powered vehicles.

Among the calibration changes:

■ The hybrids will automatically remain in electric-only mode to a top speed of 85 m.p.h., up from 62 m.p.h. now.

■ Active grille shutters will close in cold weather or when the air conditioner is running to warm or cool the cabin faster, allowing the batteries to kick in sooner to run in electric mode.

■ Fan speed will be reduced, requiring less fuel to operate.

■ The engine will warm up 50% faster, which allows stop-start technology to work faster, saving fuel when the vehicle turns itself off when idled.

The changes do not affect Ford’s Fusion and C-Max plug-in hybrids, Nair said.

Ford also is expanding its electrification engineering team by 50%, to 500 salaried employees, as it sees demand for hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles growing, Nair said.

The automaker said it will invest $50 million to augment product development and testing with new equipment and better battery testing by the end of the year.