Ford defeats appeal alleging cheating on fuel economy tests for trucks

Ford Motor Co has emerged victorious in a legal battle against consumers who alleged that the automaker cheated on fuel economy tests for its F-150 and Ranger trucks. The plaintiffs accused Ford of intentionally miscalculating factors used in certification testing and inflating mileage estimates on window stickers, leading to the overestimation of fuel economy by as much as 15% by the Environmental Protection Agency. This, in turn, induced them to overpay for their trucks and incur extra fuel costs. However, in a significant development, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected the plaintiffs’ appeal and ruled in favor of Ford. The court’s decision was based on federal law, which gives the EPA the authority to estimate vehicle fuel economy, thereby preempting the plaintiffs’ state law-based claims. Consequently, the court found that Ford’s actions did not violate any state laws related to fuel economy.

The proposed class action covered the 2018-2020 model year F-150s and 2019-2020 model year Rangers. These trucks are part of Ford’s F-series, which has been the best-selling American truck for an impressive 46 consecutive years, making them a crucial part of the company’s portfolio. Despite the plaintiffs’ claims, Circuit Judge Richard Griffin affirmed that the EPA’s estimates did not need to be strictly accurate, and federal law provided standards for those estimates. He further noted that the EPA has “significant authority” to investigate and deter fraud, suggesting that any alleged cheating would be handled by the federal agency rather than through state law-based claims.

Economy tests

The ruling in favor of Ford is a significant win for the company, as it eliminates the threat of costly litigation and potential damages related to the allegations of cheating on fuel economy tests. It also reaffirms the authority of the EPA in regulating vehicle fuel economy and underscores the importance of federal law in preempting state law-based claims. Overall, the outcome of the case has significant implications for the automotive industry and underscores the need for manufacturers to comply with federal regulations and guidelines to avoid legal repercussions.

According to Circuit Judge Richard Griffin, state-law tort claims, such as the ones made by the plaintiffs in the case against Ford Motor Co., would disrupt the balance of authority established by federal law. This would potentially allow juries to supplant the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the determination of reasonable fuel economy estimates. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the decision made in February 2022 by Chief Judge Sean Cox in federal court in Detroit, which denied the plaintiffs’ claims that Ford had cheated on fuel economy tests for its F-150 and Ranger trucks. This decision effectively affirmed the EPA’s authority to estimate vehicle fuel economy and preempted the plaintiffs’ state law-based claims.

Close criminal probe

Steve Berman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case against Ford Motor Co., expressed disappointment with the court’s decision, stating that it was a “horrible result for consumers” and ran counter to Supreme Court precedent that allows states to regulate deceptive conduct. In response to the decision, Ford released a statement expressing its satisfaction with the conclusion that consumers can rely on the EPA’s testing process and data.

In February 2021, the automaker announced that the U.S. Department of Justice had completed a criminal investigation into its fuel economy and emissions certification process without taking any action. The case, officially titled In re: Ford Motor Co F-150 and Ranger Truck Fuel Economy Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, was heard by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the case number is No. 22-1245. The lawsuit involved allegations that Ford intentionally miscalculated factors used in certification testing, resulting in inflated mileage estimates on window stickers and higher costs for consumers.