Sadly, we live in a litigious society. Lawyers love to muck up the court system with filings, paperwork and lawsuits. While some are necessary and lawyers are definitely an integral part of our criminal justice system, often, lawyers just go crazy with their lawsuits.
Such is the case with a class-action lawsuit filed against Ford Motor Company stating that Ford has false fuel-economy ratings for 2017-2019 Ford F-150 and the 2019 Ford Ranger. This is in addition to the current, unsettled class-action lawsuit against Ford over the frozen door latch malfunction.
According to information on the public website classaction.org:
Ford lists the Ranger’s fuel economy at 21 miles per gallon (mpg) city and 26 mpg highway when configured as a 4x2 truck. The lawsuit claims, however, that at least one independent test found the Ranger’s highway mileage to be just 19.5 miles per gallon on average. This, the case claims, amounts to a bad deal for consumers. From the complaint:
“The fuel economy of the 2019 Ford Ranger advertised by Ford has not been consistent with reports by independent third parties and consumers. For example, after taking the 2019 Ford Ranger on a 1,000-mile road trip, one automobile writer reported an average of 19.5 miles per gallon while on the highway…The discrepancy between the fuel economy numbers promulgated by Ford and those reported by consumers will likely cost consumers thousands of dollars more in fuel costs over the life of Class Vehicles and result in increased vehicle pollution—neither of which was bargained for by consumers at the time of purchase.”
Is Ford Guilty of Lying About Fuel Economy on F-150 and Ranger?
Lying a strong word. The word “estimated” is a big factor here. Fuel economy, as gauged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is not an exact science. So many variables can affect fuel economy for the positive or the negative. Thus, the word “estimated” is used across all auto manufacturers and they cannot be taken literally.
Other similar lawsuits to this one against Ford have been kicked due to the loose meaning of the word estimated. The EPA has come to auto manufacturers’ defense during these lawsuits. On more than one occasion, the EPA backs up the fuel economy estimates as just that – estimates, not guarantees.
In the past the EPA has defended auto makers by saying: “ratings are a useful tool for comparing the fuel economies of different vehicles, but may not accurately predict the average miles per gallon you will get.”
A line from the lawsuit specifically insinuates that Ford was deceptive with their fuel ratings:
“The discrepancy between the fuel economy numbers promulgated by Ford and those reported by consumers will likely cost consumers thousands of dollars more in fuel costs over the life of Class Vehicles and result in increased vehicle pollution—neither of which was bargained for by consumers at the time of purchase.”
Was Ford Aware of Any Fuel Discrepancies with F-150 or Ranger?
The use of “defeat devices” has been used on more than one occasion by various automotive manufacturers. Likewise, the use of various fuel-rating testing methods like coasting help to pad their EPA numbers. While defeat devices are not allowed, the coasting method or coastdown method is widely used and accepted by the EPA. Ford says no defeat device of any kind was used for these or any vehicles.
The lawsuit in question seems to want to play federal regulator against Ford and all auto manufacturers. While that might seem okay, most judges will rule against such motions and that will only work against this class-action case. Working in favor of this lawsuit is that Ford publicly admitted to knowing about concerns, internally, over their emissions certification process.
According to the lawsuit: In its annual report filed with the SEC on February 21, 2019, Ford indicated that "the Company has become aware of a potential concern involving its U.S. emissions certification process"and that the Company" cannot provide assurance that it will not have a material adverse effect on[Ford]."
At the time, Ford released the following statement:
“In September, a handful of employees raised a concern through our Speak Up employee reporting channel regarding the analytical modeling that is part of our U.S. fuel economy and emissions compliance process.
At Ford, we believe that trust in our brand is earned by acting with integrity and transparency. As part of this, we have a process for looking at how we perform and behave in our broad and complex company.
As a result of the concern, we have taken a number of actions. Specifically:
• We have hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation into the vehicle road load specifications used in our testing and applications to certify emissions and fuel economy.
Road load is a vehicle-specific resistance level used in vehicle dynamometer testing, including for fuel economy ratings and emissions certifications. Road load is established through engineering models that are validated through vehicle testing, including physical track tests referred to as coastdown testing.
• Ford has retained independent industry technical experts as part of our investigation team.
• We are hiring an independent lab to conduct further coastdown testing as part of our investigation.
• Ford also is evaluating potential changes to our road-load modeling process, including engineering, technical and governance components.
• This week, we voluntarily shared these potential concerns with Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board officials.
The investigation and potential concerns do not involve the use of defeat devices in our products. At this time, there’s been no determination that this affects Ford’s fuel economy labels or emissions certifications.
We plan to work with regulators and the independent lab to complete a technical review. As part of our review, we have identified potential concerns with how we calculate road load. The first vehicle we are evaluating is the 2019 Ranger; we are assessing additional vehicles as well.
As always, we strive to be transparent with our customers, employees, dealers, shareholders and other stakeholders. We understand how important it is to all audiences that we thoroughly yet swiftly complete this investigation.”
This lawsuit seems frivolous in nature to me. It’s a money grab by lawyers, more than anyone else. And given Ford's difficult financial year they've had, this just feels like piling on the Blue Oval to me. If you buy a vehicle thinking you’ll get the exact fuel economy listed on the window sticker, you’re pretty naïve. Conversely, auto makers like Ford do need to be 100% transparent with their fuel economy and do an overall better job of true fuel testing, in less-than-pristine conditions.
In short, auto manufacturers need to drive and test their vehicles just as consumers will, which means cool it with the coastdown method. Then, and only then, will there be legitimate, accurate EPA ratings.
What do you think about this lawsuit? Is anyone experiencing big discrepancies on the fuel economy of their truck? Leave me a comment and maybe I will do a follow up story to this.
Jimmy Dinsmore has been an automotive journalist for more than a decade and been a writer since the high school. His Driver’s Side column features new car reviews and runs in several newspapers throughout the country. He is also co-author of the book “Mustang by Design” and “Ford Trucks: A Unique Look at the Technical History of America’s Most Popular Truck”. Also, Jimmy works in the social media marketing world for a Canadian automotive training aid manufacturing company. Follow Jimmy on Facebook, Twitter, at his special Ford F-150 coverage on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can read the most of Jimmy's stories by searching Torque News Ford for daily Ford vehicle report.