“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.
A stream of consciousness look at the auto industry in 2007. Whew, what a year it was!!!!!!!
Not the Trauma We Expected, but 2007 was Tough
We began the 2007 thinking the year was going to tank into the mid-15,000,000 unit range. That didn’t happen and the industry struggled to just over 16,000,000 units. This reasonably good year was in the face of negative media coverage, a severe housing downturn, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring gasoline prices, etc.
Saying 2007 at just over 16 million units was a good year will be criticized as nuts, but we have been conditioned since 2000 to think that 17 million is good. It wasn’t too many years ago that 15 million was good. So, 16 million ain’t too bad. Just not what we have become accustomed to. And, by accustomed to, I mean we have plant capacity for many more units. We have dealers in place to sell many more units. We have built our business models and breakeven points on 17 million units and not 16 million.
We began the year with turmoil. Ford was in turmoil and embarking on an aggressive restructuring program with a new CEO at the helm. There were rumors of bankruptcy hovering over Detroit. DaimlerChrysler AG announced that it would off-load its American Chrysler Group and rely on upscale Mercedes-Benz cars, commercial trucks and, of course, Maybach and smart.
Ford Struggles Through 2007
By year end, Ford is still with us and there are some bright spots in its lineup – Fusion, Edge, MKX, MKZ. The Five Hundred, Montego and Freestyle were freshened, got new engines and renamed Taurus, Sable, Taurus X. Well, the upgrades took, but sales did not and Taurus, et.al have languished on dealer lots. I did see a ton of them on Kauai along with a very high number of Dodge Calibers. So, we know that retail sales for the Ford large cars and Crossover are not doing too well. Ford has retained top spot in big truck sales with F-Series remaining the sales leader even with Silverado and Tundra coming on strong and the Dodge Ram pickup offered at fire sale prices. Ford unloaded Aston Martin and spent the year doing due diligence on off-loading Jaguar and Land Rover (probably to India’s Tata Motors). Ford will keep Volvo, however.
To help Ford with sales and marketing, Ford lured Jim Farley to the Company. Formerly Group Vice President of Toyota’s Lexus Division, Farley was a rising star in the Toyota ranks. A friend of the Ford family, Farley appears positioned to challenge Ford’s other young star – Mark Fields – as the heir apparent to Alan Mulally in four or five years.
Now, It’s Chrysler LLC
DaimlerChrysler gave Chrysler Group to Cerberus Capital Management retaining a 19.9% stake. Cerberus promptly named Bob Nardelli – formerly hard charging CEO of Home Depot and General Electric – as CEO of Chrysler LLC. Nardelli’s lack of specific auto industry experience was offset by Cerberus adding highly respected Toyota executive Jim Press as co-COO. Press is working his way through Chrysler’s activities using the revered Toyota Five Whys approach (a question asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem. Ultimately, the goal of applying the 5 Whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem). Five Whys, understandably, has Chrysler vets on edge. They now have to justify everything. Nardelli, Press and Tom LaSorda are facing soft sales, high inventories, sub-par interiors in many cars and an image gap. With $10 billion in loans, Chrysler LLC has some time to prove itself or position itself for a takeover or a parceling out of components (like Jeep, Dodge Truck, Minivans, etc). Oh, yeah, DaimlerChrysler became Daimler AG in October.
General Motors Has Turned the Corner
General Motors appears to have turned the corner. GM has kept its head down during 2007 staying out of the feeding frenzy the media has directed at Ford and Chrysler. Not that there aren’t numerous stories written about GM, it’s just that there hasn’t been the bad news to whet the appetite of journalists.
GM’s products are improving now that the early efforts of Bob Lutz are being seen. While cars like the Saturn Aura and trucks like the Lambda Crossover SUVs and GMT900s have set the tone, Lutz’ real impact has been seen on the 2008 Cadillac CTS and 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Both of these cars will serve to cement GM’s car lineup for years to come.
The introduction of the all new Ford Edge crossover SUV is arguably the most significant launch in the United States for the 2007 model year. It certainly is for Ford Motor Company. And, Edge brings the knowledge of Ford’s decades of SUV dominance into the equation. One Ford competitor has described the Edge as the “Mustang of Crossovers” meaning that Edge could have Mustang-like impact on the crossover SUV world.
Ford’s Mark Fields Introduces the Edge in San Francisco
Ford invited VehicleVoice
correspondents to review the Edge in San Francisco. They had a reveal in an Embarcadero-side park where Mark Fields, Ford’s North American Chief gave a brief synopsis of the importance of this new crossover SUV in Ford’s lineup. Fields turned over the duty of describing the details of the Edge to Geri Ward, Ford’s Edge Brand Marketing Manager. A former powertrain engineer, Ward brought technical knowledge with a marketing spin to her pitch.
Ford’s Geri Ward – Edge Brand Marketing Manager