Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
The Environmental Protection Agency is launching an investigation into whether gas mileage estimates are accurate for new, advanced types of hybrid cars.
The probe centers on a generation of hybrids that can drive up to highway speeds on electric power alone. Chris Grundler, EPA's director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality says he worries that the EPA's figures may not be keeping up with the latest technology.
"This is a different type of hybrid and we need to understand it," he tells USA TODAY.
EPA's action underscores how the quickly evolving technology of electrification coming to cars, and a nation's fixation on gas mileage like never before, are making it harder to provide accurate consumer information that families will use for what is usually the second biggest purchases after their homes. The agency's action comes after Consumer Reports said that the gas mileage it found in two advanced Ford hybrids, the C-Max crossover and Fusion sedan, didn't match the magazine's testing.
The problem, says Grundler in an interview with USA TODAY, is that the newest breed of hybrids are extra sensitive to varying driving habits. A hybrid driven aggressive might get far worse gas mileage than a conventional car. "If you drive a hybrid the way you drive your Porsche, you are going to get less (gas mileage) than the national average."
EPA is currently preparing a Ford C-Max for testing in its Ann Arbor, Mich., test facility. Ford says the C-Max can run up 62 miles per hour on electric power alone. There's also an all-electric version of C-Max, but Grundler says the investigation will center on hybrids. It could include the General Motors' Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric that has a gas engine as well. Grundler says, however, that it hasn't been the source of complaints about its gas mileage not matching real-world results.
Besides complaints, gas mileage has increasingly been the focus of lawsuits seeking class-action status. Ford faces lawsuits over Fusion and C-Max hybrids. A proposed settlement came before a federal judge in Los Angeles on Thursday involving several Hyundai and Kia models that had their gas mileage estimates reduced last year on EPA's orders. A woman took Honda to small-claims court in Torrance, Calif., last year over mileage in her Civic. She lost.