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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 09-06-05, 06:39 AM Thread Starter
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US:Ford has a bolder idea to fight imports: Fusion

Ford Fusion

Ford has a bolder idea to fight imports: Fusion

Automaker puts itself out on a limb with a new design that says company is done playing it safe.

By Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

LOS ANGELES -- For Ford Motor Co., the Fusion sedan rolling into showrooms this month is more than just another stab at regaining ground lost long ago to Asian rivals.

The midsize car represents a first step toward bolder carmaking and edgier design -- and a shift away from years of offend-no-one vehicles aimed safely at the middle of the market.

From the executive offices to the clay-scented design studios in Dearborn, Ford is abuzz with the notion that exciting, emotional car design is the compass that can lead it out of the woods.

"You can go to an extreme," said Phil Martens, Ford's chief of product development. "We won't go there. But we certainly want to have design that makes a statement."

While far from radical, the Fusion cuts a flashier profile than Fords of the past with its forward-leaning stance and chrome three-bar grille.

In a series of market tests earlier this year, Ford parked Fusions -- stripped of their blue-oval badges -- at busy areas in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and drew an interesting response: People liked the car but were surprised to learn who built it.

At the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, more than 200 people looked at the car "and not one guessed it was a Ford," said Steve Lyons, Ford division president.

The response showed that Fusion is connecting with car buyers but that the Ford brand has drifted off their radar.

Clearly, the Fusion is the automaker's best chance in years to re-establish itself in a market it dominated in the 1980s and early 1990s with Taurus.

"We've got to get this one right," Lyons said in a presentation last week in Los Angeles. Company leaders call it Ford's most important car launch in 20 years. With SUV sales weakening and gas prices rising, the fuel-efficient sedan is hitting the market at the right time.

Ford badly needs a legitimate contender in the heart of the midsize car market, which represents about 2.5 million annual U.S. sales.

The Taurus is being slowly euthanized in rental car fleets. And Ford discontinued the smaller Contour in 2001. The larger Five Hundred, launched last fall, was criticized for being dull and an example of the play-it-safe thinking that has turned off buyers.

"Overall, the car has a profoundly geriatric feeling about it, like it was built with a swollen prostate," wrote The Los Angeles Times in a review last year of the Mercury Montego, a twin of the Five Hundred.

About the same time, Chrysler became the toast of Detroit for taking a chance with its boldly designed Chrysler 300 sedan.

After the drubbing it took over the Five Hundred, Ford determined the Fusion would be the beginning a new design era.

"What we didn't have was a DNA that we really thought would be the future of Ford," Martens said.

In contrast to the development of the Five Hundred, which found designers struggling around a list of engineering mandates, Fusion designers were given more power to drive the process.

That approach is now being taken on all Ford vehicle programs. Ford President Jim Padilla and CEO Bill Ford regularly drop by studios to check the progress on future models and chat with designers.

"We feel very confident," said Peter Horbury, Ford's North American design chief. "We're recognized as one of the departments that can have a positive effect on the future."

If the Fusion is an indication of what's ahead, then Ford's fortunes may well improve, said Joseph Barker, an industry sales analyst at CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills. While the car's design is still "a bit conservative," it is a step forward for Ford, he said.

"It's a tough segment to crack and a tough segment to be successful in. But I think Fusion has the right stuff."

The Fusion, which rides on the same underbody as the sporty Mazda 6 midsize sedan and will have two sister vehicles -- the Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr -- is based on the Ford 427 concept vehicle shown at the Detroit auto show in 2003.

Some models achieve up to 31 miles per gallon, and the car is priced between $18,000 and $22,000. Fusion's defining feature is its broad, horizontal chrome grille that other Ford cars will soon wear, including the Five Hundred when it is refreshed in early 2007.

With Fusion, Ford is targeting buyers between the ages of 25 and 39 years old, a highly influential demographic the automaker has missed out on by not having a credible midsize entry.

Ford also wants to attract customers it is losing to other brands -- such as the 20,000 Mustang owners who trade up for a midsize car but who have had nowhere to go at Ford. Marketing to NASCAR fans by racing the Fusion in the Nextel Cup racing circuit will be another line of attack, and the Internet will play a bigger role than it has in past vehicle launches.

Ford expects annual Fusion sales around 150,000 but doesn't think it will win back drivers of foreign cars overnight.

In one market test in Orange County, Calif., Ford lined up Fusion against segment leaders Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu. The majority chose the Fusion as the favorite. But when they learned the Fusion was a Ford, many switched back to Camry. The episode showed that Ford has a long way to go.

"We're not thinking we're going to take a lot of people up front who are buying Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords and Nissan Altimas and suddenly tomorrow they're going to go shopping at a Ford store," Lyons said.

There will be pressure on Fusion and other upcoming models to help lead a turnaround at Ford.

Ford posted a $907 million pre-tax loss in the second quarter at its North American auto business. Its U.S. market share has fallen below 18 percent this year, down from 26.4 percent a decade ago.

Having just completed a major downsizing, Ford plans to detail a new restructuring plan in October that could mean more job cuts and possible factory closures.

"We had a good plan at the end of 2001," said Padilla. "We executed it. We achieved everything that was in it and then some. But it wasn't good enough. ... So guess what? Now we have to respond again, and we're going to step up to it."

If the Fusion falls flat, Ford's troubles will only deepen. "A home run at least," said design chief Horbury. "That's what we need."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 09-07-05, 07:00 AM Thread Starter
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Re: US:Ford has a bolder idea to fight imports: Fusion

The Fusion merges distinctive styling and affordability.

Fusion is up for the fight

Stylish Ford is formidable competitor to Accord, Camry

By Anita Lienert and Paul Lienert / Special to The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.

The Fusion

Ford Motor Co.

The Fusion's uncluttered cabin offers an analog clock and a choice of low-gloss "piano black" plastic surface, carbon-fiber or wood.

LIVONIA -- Eric R. Reed trailed the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan we were testing for a couple miles up I-275 and then seemed overjoyed to catch up to us. He rolled down the window of his Oldsmobile Intrigue at a stoplight to pepper us with questions about the car that replaces the Ford Taurus.

"That front end is smokin'!" hollered Reed, a 47-year-old Detroit police officer. "Is that the new Ford? Can you pull it over?"

In the parking lot of the Laurel Park Place shopping center, Reed and his companion, Brenda L. Franklin, 52, a retired General Motors Corp. clerk who lives in Southfield, hopped into the Fusion, chattering away about its merits.

"The front end caught my eye," said Reed, positioning himself in the back seat.

"This is superb. The only thing it needs is chrome wheels."

Franklin, from her perch in the front passenger's seat, was just as effusive.

"I'm lovin' it, too," she said. "I've got to get on the phone. My mother just bought a 2005 Taurus, and I've got bad news for her. She should have waited."

We live for that kind of scene because it confirms what we already thought: The 2006 Ford Fusion, and its sister vehicle, the 2006 Mercury Milan, are such satisfying and stylish vehicles that they may signal the turning point for the battered Dearborn automaker.

We test-drove the front-wheel-drive Fusion and the Milan, which go on sale this month, back-to-back during a week in late August.

All-wheel-drive versions of the sedans will be available next year, with hybrid gas/electric variants scheduled for model year 2007. A third model, the all-new Lincoln Zephyr, goes on sale later this year.

The Ford and Mercury four-doors are poised to go up against some tough competition, namely the face-lifted 2006 Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, the two vehicles that dominate the midsize family-sedan category in the United States.

But with the Mexico-built Fusion, which is based on the same platform as the impressive Mazda6 sedan, we believe a domestic automaker may finally have come up with a truly competitive product to pit against the Japanese-brand best sellers.

The Fusion looks striking inside and out, handles like a sport sedan, gets respectable fuel economy -- thanks to a six-speed automatic transmission with the V-6 models -- and has an affordable sticker price.

Our test Fusion was a top-of-the-line SEL model with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a base price of $22,360, including a $650 destination charge.

Our test vehicle had seven options, including $595 side air bags and side air curtains, $895 leather seats and a $420 audiophile stereo. Bottom line: $25,650.

The base price of the four-cylinder Fusion with manual transmission is $17,995, including destination charge. The 2005 Accord starts at $16,845, while the 2006 Camry -- essentially a carryover car until the redesigned '07 model arrives in the spring -- starts at $18,985. A top-of-the-line '06 Camry XLE lists for $26,345, while a top-of-the-line '05 Accord EX lists for $27,400.

With the profusion of family sedans on the market, Ford had to come up with the type of exterior styling that turns other drivers into stalkers. Happily, the company did not take a page from the dowdy Ford Five Hundred sedan's design book, but looked instead to the Ford 427 concept car.

Peter Horbury, Ford's North American director of design, said they were aiming to create an American vehicle characterized by simple, strong lines.

"It has a real confident look -- and great teeth," Horbury said.

The "teeth" are the three chrome bars that cut across the front end of the Fusion. Designers also lopped off the car's corners, giving the Fusion a trim and fit appearance. The body of the Fusion wraps around the wheels and triangular-shaped taillights help create a distinctive appearance even from the rear.

The cabin is clean and uncluttered. Our test Fusion SEL had an instrument panel that was trimmed in soft-touch, low-gloss plastics and "piano black," a lacquered-looking surface that looks like it was taken from a Steinway baby grand.

Other interior trim treatments are black-and-gray carbon-fiber or traditional wood. It's nice to see Ford made such items as a tilt/telescoping steering wheel standard across the Fusion's lineup.

The upscale SEL model has such luxury touches as a chrome-trimmed analog clock in the center of the instrument panel, an accessory that has come to be associated with more expensive brands like Cadillac and Infiniti.

The one area where the Fusion falls short against some of its Japanese competition is safety. For 2006, the Accord will offer standard side air bags and side air curtains across the lineup. Many safety features on the Fusion cost extra.

Antilock brakes add $595 to the bottom line, while traction control costs extra on the SEL model we drove and is not available on the other two trim levels. Side air bags and side air curtains are another $595 on the new Ford sedan. You cannot get stability control on the Fusion.

The Fusion is fairly spartan, too, when it comes to cabin amenities. You can't get a navigation system, which you can on the Camry and the Accord. A power moonroof costs extra on the Fusion SEL; it's standard on the Accord EX and Camry XLE. Nor can you order such desirable features on the Fusion as a rear-seat DVD entertainment, clutchless shifting, adjustable pedals or even a jack for your iPod.

And while the rear seat is spacious, with ample head- and legroom, it lacks vents and individual reading lights.

We were impressed with the Fusion's roomy trunk, but wished it had a standard cargo net or some kind of cargo organizer.

While putting several hundred miles on the Fusion, we noted rain dripping in the open driver's window after a shower, too much tire noise and rear visibility issues due to the high parcel shelf.

But in terms of driving characteristics, the Fusion is a winner. It is extremely agile for a midsize family sedan -- more so than the Accord and Camry -- and a snap to swing into parking spaces because of its rack-and-pinion power steering.

The ride comfort is decent, on par with Honda and Toyota, but the stiff four-wheel independent suspension makes it slightly bumpy on dirt and gravel roads and over rutted pavement.

Our test car was fitted with a 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 engine that makes 221 horsepower and 205 pounds-feet of torque. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, an excellent feature that helps optimize engine performance and conserve fuel.

Our test Fusion got 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA. There is no manual transmission offered with the V-6 engine.

We found the V-6 to be lively and responsive on the highway, much more so than the same-size power plant in the much larger and heavier Ford Five Hundred sedan.

The base Fusion comes with a 2.3-liter I-4 that makes 160 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque.

It is mated to a five-speed manual transmission; the launch of the I-4's five-speed automatic transmission has been delayed until Oct. 1, Ford said.

The smaller engine and manual transmission get slightly better fuel economy than the V-6, at 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 31 miles per gallon on the highway.

While consumers may find the Fusion's edgy exterior design a bit polarizing, they won't find much to fault with the basic package, from comfort to performance to value. Although it lags on amenities and safety, in most other respects, the '06 Fusion is a formidable competitor to the class-leading Accord and Camry.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 09-08-05, 07:41 AM Thread Starter
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Re: US:Ford has a bolder idea to fight imports: Fusion

2006 Ford Fusion V6
World Beater? Ford says its new Fusion will take on the Accord and Camry

(Photos by Walter G. Arce)

BASE PRICE: $21,995
POWERTRAIN: 3.0-liter, 221-hp, 200-lb-ft V6; fwd, six-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3101 lbs
0 TO 60 MPH: 8.0 seconds (est.)

Behold the new Ford Fusion, the car that is going to knock the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry out of their positions atop the midsize-sedan sales charts. That’s not us doing the talking, it’s what Phil Martens says. At the new car’s launch Martens, Ford’s group vp in charge of engineering, said that with the Fusion, Ford is “going at the Japanese auto*makers’ throats.

“We want to go after the midsize car market,” he continued. “That means Accord and Camry, and we think we have a winner here.

“This is not to say we’re trying. This car is us saying we’re back, back in the car business.” Martens said he thinks the Accord and Camry are nice cars and all, but Dearborn figures the midsize segment needs some attitude. For Ford, that means Fusion.

Pretty strong words. Does the car back them up? Having spent time driving Ford’s latest back to back with its Japanese rivals, we’d say the Fusion has got a shot, especially against the Camry.

For starters the Fusion looks good. Ford says the three-bar chrome grille and smooth front fascia were inspired by the 2003 Ford 427 concept. That car was built on a stretched Lincoln LS rear-drive platform and had a massive 427-cubic-inch V10 under the hood. Fusion makes do with two available engines, a 2.3-liter 160-hp four-cylinder and the 3.0-liter V6.

We only drove the V6 Fusion, which produces 221 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. You can get the four-cylinder with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic, while a six-speed automatic comes standard with the V6.

The V6 isn’t a bad engine—it feels about on par with Camry’s 190 hp in terms of power and smoothness, but the Accord’s 3.0-liter V6 feels smoother, revs more freely and sounds better. At 240 hp, the Accord has the edge on power, too.

The Fusion rides on a slightly bigger (two inches longer) Mazda 6 platform, a great starting point. Front suspension is a short/long-arm arrangement with a multilink setup in the rear. The steering is slightly heavier than the competitors’, and the car felt thoroughly at home on some North Carolina twisties, with good control of body motions. The standard four-wheel disc brakes (ABS is optional) do a good job stopping the car, even after a hard day’s work.

The interior is nice-looking if a bit unremarkable. At least it looks well-assembled, and the seats are comfortable. Even on the prototypes we drove, material quality looked competitive with what’s out there (well, except for Volkswagen—it’s still at least one step ahead).

The Fusion replaces the Taurus, on the retail side anyway—Taurus will soldier on for fleets and rental-car agencies. The Fusion will be built at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant, which can churn out 300,000 Fusions a year. An all-wheel-drive version will come in 2007, Martens said. Other rumored spinoffs include a hybrid and a tallish six-seat wagon.

Prices start at $17,900 for the base four-cylinder model, $18,995 with the automatic. V6 models start at $21,995. To compare, a base Accord starts at $16,295 while Camry starts at $18,445.

So is Martens right? Will the Fusion topple the Accord and Camry? We’ll see. On our day in the Fusion, words such as competent and credible came to mind. Earth-shattering it ain’t, but the Fusion is a solid midsize contender and Ford hasn’t had one of those in a long while. Not since an earlier Taurus routinely battled Camry and Accord for honors as America’s bestselling car.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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