The Ford (NYSE:F) C-Max was supposed to be a Prius killer, an American version of the versatile Japanese hybrid hatch that showed the world that Michigan had what it took to create a vehicle that offered minivan-like capabilities coupled with outstanding fuel economy for the multitudes of people who want to do more while spending less. The C-Max seemed to be on the right track, too, until it was discovered that a formulaic error had seriously high-balled the expected fuel economy averages for the C-Max minivan-crossover vehicle.
Since it shares the same drivetrain as the Ford Fusion hybrid, the EPA allowed Ford to apply the same figures to the C-Max — 47 miles per gallon combined — that it awarded the sedan. However, the Fusion is a far more aerodynamic vehicle, and in the real world, that had profound effects on the C-Max’s ability to actually achieve such a number. An outcry from owners who were having trouble breaking 43 miles per gallon or so period 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.
That came with some detrimental effects to the demand of the C-Max, which appears to have been largely driven on the car’s ability to score some seriously impressive consumption figures. After Ford’s revision, sales tanked and volume dropped, down 39 percent last month. For the year, C-Max sales are down 43 percent.
“We’re definitely seeing consideration on C-Max decline over time,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said last week, per the Detroit Free Press. “We need to reinvest in the product because it’s a great car.”
In order to regenerate some demand for the vehicle, Ford is offering $1,000 cash or 1.9 percent financing for 60 months on the 2014 C-Max Hybrid. It is offering a larger incentive on leftover 2013 C-Max Hybrids, at 0 percent interest for 72 months plus $1,250 or $2,750 in total cash, Automotive News is reporting.
Dealers have seen the demand slump firsthand, too, especially when compared to the more efficient Fusion Hybrid. “The Fusion Hybrid is outselling C-Max — I bet it’s three to one, four to one,” Chris Lemley, the owner of Sentry Ford-Lincoln in Medford, Massachusetts, told Automotive News. “Most people would agree the Fusion is a more substantial vehicle. It’s one car class bigger. It tends to be around the same payment.” It looks a little bolder, too, and for those who don’t absolutely need the hatchback utility, it’s an easy choice.
The Fusion Hybrid, though, has also been seeing sales slip, down about 6 percent this year to date. Hybrids overall are seeing sales growth slow or decline, as new generations of highly fuel efficient crossovers and other cars offer more comparable mileage at less cost.
“The whole segment is down and we’ve been seeing it for a while,” Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, told Automotive News. “What’s on the rise is small to mid-size SUVs. Those are the segments where there is a lot of interest.
“You combine the SUV profile with 30-plus [miles per gallon] and you’re going to pull in a lot of people who a couple of years ago might have thought hybrid,” he added.
“Remember the C-Max was supposed to be Ford’s Prius,” Brauer said. “The idea was that it would be this identifiable vehicle. That only works if people care about green-oriented vehicles, and the appetite for those is falling.”
Hybrid sales overall have slid 16 percent through last month, and sales of the Toyota Prius V (which is regarded as the C-Max’s greatest adversary), have dropped 30 percent to 6,001 through the first three months, Automotive News said.
“Even with the new label, the C-Max is still best in class for fuel economy over the Prius V,” Hinrichs said, per the Detroit Free Press. The C-Max “has more space and 60 more horsepower, better fuel economy, better space, better price.” But despite the stronger stats, the C-Max is still struggling to break 2,000 sales per month. Whether the incentives will help, only time will tell from here.