Ford in the past year has added into its model mix a Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan, above, hybrid-only C-Max compact crossover, a Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan, a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and plug-in variants of the C-Max and Fusion. It also sells an all-electric Focus compact.2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid: The all-new Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan is expected to deliver at least 47 mpg highway and travel up to 62 mph on full electric power. (01/09/12) (Ford)
One year ago, Ford Motor Co. officially staked its flag in the U.S. electric vehicle circle when it began to launch three new hybrids and two plug-in hybrids.
And a year later, despite backlash over inflated fuel efficiency claims for the Ford C-Max Hybrid and a delayed launch of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, the Dearborn automaker has managed to lift its share of the electric and hybrid market from 3 percent to 15 percent. Ford also has been able to steal customers from its chief competitor, Toyota Motor Corp., which it has brazenly viewed as an equal competitor since before any of Ford’s new hybrid vehicles hit dealer lots.
“I think in this case their bragging is well-founded,” said John O’Dell, senior editor at Edmunds.com. “Ford is outselling everything but Prius by a good margin. And I think they’ve managed to escape fairly well from the C-Max fuel-economy rollback.”
Ford in the past year has added a hybrid-only C-Max compact crossover, a Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan, a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and plug-in variants of the C-Max and Fusion. It also sells an all-electric Focus compact car.
In the 12-month period beginning last September, Ford is likely to have sold about 85,000 hybrids and electric vehicles, compared to about 22,000 during the 12 months previous to that. (Although automakers reported September U.S. sales Tuesday, Ford’s numbers on hybrid and electric vehicle sales aren’t released until Thursday.)
“It’s like going from last in the league to the second-best selling hybrid brand in the country in one year,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst, in a telephone interview.
Ford has a long way to go if it wants to knock off the segment-leading Toyota, which has led all automakers in U.S. hybrid sales since it introduced the Prius here in 2000. Toyota holds a significant edge in sales and is planning fuel economy increases for its next-generation Prius, due out in a couple of years.
Toyota still sells nearly four times as many hybrid and electric vehicles as Ford. In 2013, Ford has sold 61,306 through August, the most recent month for which data is available. By comparison, Toyota has sold more than 236,000, including hybrid variants of the Camry midsize and Avalon full-size and hybrid Lexus models.
Ford, partly through production constraints, has managed to create a selling environment in which most of its electric vehicles — aside from the Focus electric — are in high demand.
The automaker’s three hybrids spend 28 days or less on dealer lots — well below the industry standard of 60 days — and the Fusion and MKZ Hybrids spend less than three weeks there, which has meant minimal discounting.
“Our EV products typically have a higher premium profit for the dealer than their gas-powered counterparts,” said C.J. O’Donnell, Ford’s group marketing manager of electrified vehicles, in a telephone interview, though he declined to provide specific numbers.
Ford has successfully lured hybrid drivers from Toyota, particularly because of the design of the C-Max and Fusion, which “don’t look like a Prius,” O’Dell said.
If Ford wants to continue to make up ground on Toyota, it will have to continue to beat Toyota in design and fuel efficiency, and avoid costly mistakes like overstating mileage claims.
In the past year, Ford has upgraded software on about 77,000 hybrids to “reduce the variability in MPG” experienced by many owners. A month later it agreed to drop the fuel economy rating on the C-Max from a combined 47 mpg to 43 mpg — a nearly 10 percent reduction — and said it would compensate approximately 32,000 customers for the gas-mileage discrepancy. Ford also has faced multiple lawsuits over its fuel efficiency claims from owners who say the cars don’t deliver what the window stickers promise.
Analysts are torn on the true impact of Ford’s hybrid mileage problem on future sales, but fuel-efficiency claims will assuredly become more scrutinized as automakers continue to improve hybrid powertrains.
Toyota, for instance, which is in the planning stages of its fourth-generation Prius, is targeting greater fuel-efficiency improvements than ever before.
“In each of the previous moves to a new generation, we achieved a 10 percent increase in mileage per gallon,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said this week. “We are committed to beating that record this time.”