Positioning the Fusion.
“Our goal is to communicate to dealers and customer that Fusion blends the best traits of its competitors, without compromise. Plus, the Fusion brings style and attitude to a segment currently lacking emotion.”—Dan Geist, Fusion marketing manager.
Two things about that statement:
(1) Note that there is a definite awareness of competitors. Though he didn’t name them, Phil Martens, Ford group vice president, Product Creation, North America, observed that the “Asians have run the table and played well,” and Steve Lyons, Ford group vice president, North American Marketing, Sales and Service, said that the competitive set includes the Camry, Altima, and Accord. Martens later chimed in with another car in the crosshairs: the ‘06 Hyundai Sonata. Interestingly, Lyons admitted that it is unlikely that they will be able to convert many buyers of those cars, who are generally brand loyal. Rather, he suggested that there is the opportunity to “intercept people” who are looking for their first midsize sedan, and he pointed out that there are some 20,000 Mustang owners who annually leave Mustang for a midsize car that, heretofore, Ford hasn’t had to offer them for the past 20 years (he stated that Taurus is not that car); that there are some five million Explorer owners and many million F-Series owners who have a midsize sedan as their “other vehicle,” which means opportunities galore for the Fusion.
(2) The convenient, but not necessarily accurate, rhetoric of the lack of style (referenced in this case as “emotion”) of the Camry, Altima, and Accord is held as a competitive advantage for the car. The Fusion design, as Ford personnel like to point out, is inspired by a concept car, the Ford 427, which made its debut in January 2003. The 427 has its heritage in the mid-1960s. The Fusion went on sale in September 2005. In this regard, the vehicle—or its design—was long in coming. One interesting aspect related to this is that the three-bar grille, said to be a design cue harkening back to the Ford Galaxie, notwithstanding, Lyons said that 200 people were shown a Fusion that had no badging and not one of them identified the car as a Ford. And that’s good? What’s wrong with Ford design? After all, no current vehicle challenges the appeal of the Mustang (yet its style hasn’t migrated across the Ford line. . .so far).
The New Ford.
Martens stated that the development, engineering and manufacturing program for the Fusion is indicative of a faster, more efficient approach that the company is taking (the Fusion is said to be Ford’s first “fully digital” production car, having gone from math to production tooling faster than previous mass-production programs the company has undertaken: Ford's Digital Fusion). The car is based on the CD3 architecture, which first appeared as the Mazda6 (see: 2003 Mazda6 s), and which is being transformed into other vehicles in the corporation’s portfolio, including the Lincoln Zephyr and the Mercury Milan. In addition to which, Martens says that there will be an all-wheel-drive Fusion in calendar ’06 and a hybrid-powered Fusion in ’08. He calls it a flexible vehicle architecture,” one that will facilitate not only cars but crossovers as well as new types of vehicles that he doesn’t specify. Martens suggests that the Fusion is actually the first vehicle to emerge from what he calls “the new Ford Motor Company,” products that are rolled out with an up-tempo cadence, products that are meant to resonate with the public. While some people might have thought that the Ford Five Hundred was the first, that is not the case, according to Martens.
Although the Fusion is based on the Mazda6 platform, Martens notes that the car is more rigid than the original (specifically, there’s 12.7% more torsional rigidity, despite the fact that the Fusion is 1.18 in. wider and 2.17-in. longer than the Mazda6; the Fusion is 72.2 in. wide, 190.2 in. long, and has a 107.4-in. wheelbase ). Contributing to the solidity of the vehicle is the deployment of high-strength steel, such as the use of dual-phase steel for the rocker panels and tailor-welded blanks for the B-pillars so that the gauge of the material is nearly 0.25 in. thicker above the beltline. Laser welded blanks are also used for the front frame rails.
Mounted on three hydro-type mounts that are suspended pendulum style is the engine. The top-of-the-line engine—which achieves improved isolation via that system as compared with the traditional approach of mounting the engine in a cradle—is the Duratec 30 3-liter DOHC V6. The engine, produced in Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant #2, produces 221 hp @ 6,250 rpm and 205 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm, which moves the 3,280-lb car in a reasonable manner. (The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; this combo results in an EPA highway number of 29 mpg.)
The Fusion is being built at the Ford Hermosillo Stamping & Assembly Plant in Mexico, which has undergone modifications for the new product. Although Five Hundred sales have picked up some needed traction and the Mustang continues strong, the company needs a high-volume car in the market to compete with the aforementioned New Domestic products. One of the things that a fast product development cycle and the reuse of platforms and components means is an aggressive price. Which is exactly what Ford is putting in the market:
2006 Ford Fusion
2006 Hyundai Sonata
2005 Honda Accord
2005 Chevrolet Malibu
2005 Toyota Camry
2005 Nissan Altima
Phil Martens is confident of the potential success of the Fusion and the products to follow. “We intend to be relentless,” he promises.—GSV Although Ford marketing people say that the design of the Fusion has “universal appeal,” one of the targets they are hoping to reach with the car is a younger crowd, a category that they call, in marketing-speak, “industrious dreamers,” a.k.a., aging members of Gen X. Through the end of August ’05, its biggest selling car was the Taurus (147,770 units), which is phasing out, so hopes are that the Fusion will ramp way up.