Why Fusion can't flop: Forget chasing Camry buyers, Ford wants to hang onto its own
AMY WILSON | Automotive News
LOS ANGELES -- Ford Motor Co. expects its new Fusion sedan to take on the mid-sized segment leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
But Ford executives aren't counting on winning over a big chunk of Camry and Accord customers. Instead, the Fusion will enable Ford to retain its own buyers, says Steve Lyons, group vice president of North American marketing, sales and service.
Each year, 20,000 drivers trade in their Mustangs to buy a mid-sized car, and "none of them buy a Ford," Lyons said at a press event here.
And 20 percent of consumers who have an F-150 pickup or an Explorer SUV also own a competitor's mid-sized car, he added.
Ford executives are under the gun because of falling market share and mounting losses in the company's North American auto business. They are counting on the Fusion to arrest that decline.
"This is arguably the most important car launch for Ford since the Taurus in 1985," Lyons said. "Fusion is the centerpiece, and we've got to get this right."
The 2006 Fusion is the first vehicle to reach the market that reflects Ford's new budget-minded approach to product development. Ford expects the Fusion to help boost profits in its car business.
By basing the Fusion on a modified Mazda6 platform, Ford shaved three months off the standard vehicle development time.
Ford is saving money by sharing Fusion components with Mazda and two sister vehicles, the Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr. Those cars also debut this fall.
Ford is building the cars in low-cost Mexico. A supplier park adjacent to the Hermosillo assembly plant is providing much of the cars' content.
The troubled parts maker Collins & Aikman Corp. has had startup issues at the supplier park. But the Fusion launch is proceeding more smoothly than last year's slow ramp-up of the 2005 Ford Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle sport wagon at Ford's Chicago plant, says Phil Martens, group vice president of North America product creation.
Ford says it plans on selling 160,000 Fusions a year, 130,000 of them to retail customers. The cars started shipping from Hermosillo at the end of August. They haven't reached dealer lots but should be on sale by month end, says Ford spokesman Jim Cain.
Despite a modest starting price - $17,795, including delivery - Ford is offering incentives. Buyers can get $500 in matching money on their down payment and another $500 for financing with Ford Motor Credit Co.
Ford expects about half of the Fusion's sales volume to come from the car's 3.0-liter V-6 model, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. A 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is available with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
The five-speed automatic version won't arrive until later this fall, Cain says. Production of that model has been delayed by a mid-program switch from a four-speed automatic to a five-speed automatic.
All Fusion models should be available by the time national TV advertising begins in early November, Ford officials say. Commercials will carry the tag line "Life in Drive."
Ford expects to spend as much as 30 percent of its marketing budget on nontraditional media, Lyons said. He would not divulge the cost.