Independent tests showing some hybrid vehicles get far fewer miles per gallon than advertised is a consumer issue that has significant public policy implications.

We would hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is paying attention and will take steps to update its testing protocol.

At issue are recent auto tests conducted by the venerable watchdog Consumer Reports.

The organization found, for instance, that the EPA rates the Ford C-Max hybrid as getting 47 mpg overall. But the Consumer Reports tests mimicking real-world conditions showed it got only 37 mph.

Why the discrepancy?

Consumer Reports says the EPA is using outdated testing methods that favor hybrid vehicles.

For instance, in gauging highway mileage, the EPA uses a car treadmill, called a dynamometer. The test involves stop-and-go driving and an average speed of 48 mph.

Hybrids, which can rely on their electric power a lot in those situations (as opposed to their gas-fueled engine) fared well in the test.

The testing that Consumer Reports did involved measuring the gas consumption of vehicles going steadily at 65 mph. Under those circumstances, the hybrids did not do as well.

Consumers could very well feel deceived by the numbers, but there are other issues at work.

Hybrids with just a single occupant can zip past traffic using high-occupancy-vehicle lanes in some parts of the country -- including Colorado -- because of their superior efficiency. The idea is to support, through public policy, efficient vehicles that generate less harmful emissions. But if they're really not substantially more efficient, it's neither environmentally beneficial nor fair to drivers of traditional vehicles that may, in reality, get similar gas mileage.

As automakers adjust to meet tough new fuel efficiency standards set by the Obama administration, there almost certainly will be a push to develop more hybrids.

Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards will increase to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a tough standard to meet.

The coming generation of vehicles ought to be measured in ways that more closely mirror the conditions they face. Then, we will truly know whether new vehicles are more efficient, and consumers will get a fairer shake in the process.

 

--The Denver Post, July 14