If you remember, Ford (NYSE:F) ended up stuck between a rock and a hard place — aka the Environmental Protection Agency and its customers – when it was revealed that a formulaic error had seriously high-balled the expected fuel economy averages for the C-Max minivan-crossover vehicle. Originally rated for 47 miles per gallon across the board, an outcry from owners who were having trouble breaking 43 or so made Ford examine the issue to find that they were right, and the official numbers were lowered to more accurately reflect the car’s true fuel economy. The car is now rated for 45 in the city and 40 miles per gallon on the highway.
Despite doing the right thing, it appears that the cut to EPA ratings has hurt the sales of the C-Max. The rating was initially tied to Ford’s Fusion Hybrid sedan, a far sleeker and more aerodynamically efficient vehicle; Ford first attributed the discrepancy to driving style, but it soon became evident that the engineering of the vehicle was at fault for the shortcoming.
“We’re definitely seeing consideration on C-Max decline over time,” the Detroit Free Press quoted Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, as saying. “We need to reinvest in the product because it’s a great car.” Sales for the C-Max slid 39 percent last month. For the year, C-Max sales are down 43 percent.
Ford ended up compensating owners of the C-Max for its misstated claims, announced last August. Despite the decrease, though, the C-Max still manages better fuel economy than its principal rival, the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Prius v — albeit marginally.
Ford has seen great success with its line of hybrids, though the Fusion hybrid, which does manage 47 miles per gallon combined, and the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid have been carrying much of the weight.
The sales data also indicate that for the C-Max, its fuel economy — combined with the utility — is really the car’s biggest draw: The car’s not selling because it’s pretty. As vehicles like Mazda’s CX-5 crossover become increasingly efficient, people are having harder times justifying the price of a hybrid when new combustion engine-powered cars can manage high MPGs also. The CX-5, in the right setup, can safely grab 35 miles per gallon on the highway, and starts at about $7,000 less than the most affordable C-Max.
This presents Ford with a conundrum: Once the unusually high mileage is removed from the equation, the C-Max seems to have little appeal among buyers. This indicates that the market for the C-Max is quite small and exceptionally niche — which isn’t bad, per se (Subaru built its name on a niche market), but it doesn’t offer much progress as far as making hybrids cool and more mainstream (the Fusion, notably, accomplishes that quite well).
Our suggestion? Give the C-Max a makeover to better fit it into the rest of the lineup. Though it has the new Ford design language in the grille and headlights, it still looks like that goofy relative you only have to see a few times a year.