“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.
The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.
What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.
The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.
2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.
1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.
2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.
2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.
Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.
Who will win? Front-wheel drive? Rear-wheel drive? All-wheel drive? Some don’t care who wins! And we have the enthusiasts, who begrudge anything with front-wheel drive and performance in the same sentence.
Let’s fast forward five years…
An annual pilgrimage for the auto industry is to attend the press days at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January. Unfortunately, this year I cannot attend because my physicians caution that I should not be heaving carry-ons into and out of overhead bins and baggage carousels.
So, I’m jealous.
One of the primary businesses of AutoPacific is to keep on top of what is the latest in the auto industry worldwide, so AutoPacific will still be well represented at Detroit.
I asked each of our staff members to remind me why I should or should not be jealous of them attending instead of me. Read below the break for their input.
Goodyear Auto Service Centers – the Most Satisfying Tire Retailer in AutoPacific’s 1st Replacement Tire Retailer Dynamics and Satisfaction Study
About 26% of drivers in the USA have replaced one or more tires in the last twelve months. Most of these tires are purchased and serviced by a Tire Retailer. Tire retailers can range from the corner service station to an auto dealership, a mass market retailer or a specialist nationwide tire center. Knowing which tire retailers provide the most satisfying service is critical when deciding where to purchase Replacement Tires. In its first Replacement Tire Brand Dynamics and Satisfaction Study AutoPacific surveyed over 15,000 vehicle owners who bought replacement tires over the past twelve months to determine what is important when choosing a replacement tire and which tire retailers provide the most satisfying experience.
Last summer during a discussion with senior Hyundai management in Seoul, I asked “When can we expect to see a third plant for Hyundai and or Kia in the United States?” The response was “A third plant will be necessary when Hyundai and Kia sell 900,000 per year in the USA.”
In 2010, Hyundai sold 538,228 cars and light trucks in the USA and Kia sold 356,496 cars and light trucks. That is a total of 874,496 cars and light trucks for these two fast-growing brands. That number is also close enough for us to hypothesize that an announcement for a third Hyundai or Kia plant in the USA should be forthcoming.
Two USA Plants Already at or Above Capacity: Clearly, Hyundai is pushing the capacity of their Montgomery, Alabama plant. With the Sonata Mid-Size Sedan setting all-time sales records and the newly launched Elantra promising to sell very well, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama is out of capacity even at its increased capacity planning volume of 400,000 units. Hyundai has announced it is importing Elantras from Korea to meet extraordinary demand in the USA. Kia is adding a third shift to its West Point, Georgia plant producing Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe crossover sport utility vehicles.
Rumor – Mississippi Hyundai-Kia has likely squeezed as many concessions as possible from Alabama and Georgia to support its two plants there. A logical next choice still within range of Hyundai and Kia suppliers is Mississippi. With a third plant in the offing, any state would be willing to offer substantial concessions for the investment dollars and jobs a large scale plant inevitably generates.
Two-Year Purchase Intention Down
TUSTIN, Calif. (May 3, 2010) – AutoPacific, an authoritative automotive research and insight company, regularly tracks the impact of fuel prices on the type of vehicles Americans will consider buying. The results for the just completed Fuel Price Impact Survey show some surprising results, and are summarized below.
While there are many indications that the recession is ending, at least in terms of new vehicle sales it may be too early to declare victory, as expressed intent to purchase a new car or truck in the next two years has slightly declined over the January to March period.
Over 1,000 respondents completed AutoPacific’s March 2010 wave of its Fuel Price Impact Survey.
Nissan has today announced U.S. LEAF pricing. On the eve of the New York show, they have successfully caused a near-unanimous “WOW” across the industry with an amazingly low price for high-technology system. Profit per vehicle is not something automakers are happy to talk about in any situation, but the expectation is that Nissan may not make any profit on the LEAF for many, many years. Still, the combination of an affordable price and the years of deep legwork Nissan has done in preparing consumers and communities for the product, the LEAF is the biggest step yet in advancing the cause of electric vehicles. What does this mean for the success of LEAF? Here’s my first reaction…
$32,380 ($25,280 after $7500 Federal tax credit)
$349/month for 36-month lease (Nissan takes the credit to enable that price)
$2200–AeroVironment home-charging dock and installation (also eligible for tax credit)
$99 Registration fee, refundable (www.nissanusa.com)