Ford Bets Big on Fusion
2013 Fusion represents strong challenge to Accord, Camry.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: October 1st, 2012
Ford pulled no punches with the new Fusion.
ord's 2013 Fusion is big. Not in terms of space—the Fusion is a mid-size car, after all—but in terms of the impact the car could potentially have on the mid-size market.
For Ford, it's about challenging the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry—not to mention a whole host of other mid-size sedans—for mid-size supremacy.
The mid-size class represents about 17 percent of cars sold, so any automaker that can do well in this class is going to be sitting pretty. And while the previous Fusion received raves from the press and seemed to move off dealership lots without much trouble, it still hasn't dethroned the Accord and Camry from their perches, despite finishing third in sales in the segment in 2011. On top of that, the Fusion isn't the only mainstream player in the mid-size game to go under the knife for 2013.
Nissan's Altima and Chevy's Malibu have also been redesigned for 2013, and Mazda has a new 6 coming down the pipe for the 2014 model year. Of course, both the Camry and Accord have been recently redesigned (Camry for 2012, Accord for 2013), and Volkswagen redesigned the Passat with special emphasis on U.S. sales for 2012.
"The volumes in the segment are huge, and success here means a lot of exposure for the brand," Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific, said.
Ford pulled no punches with the new Fusion. The company is stressing design, fuel economy, fun-to-drive factor, and upmarket materials, meaning that Ford is betting on buyers who want more than just bland transportation from their family sedan. It's not a make or break bet for the company—Ford will almost certainly survive even if the 2013 Fusion is a sales dud—but if the Fusion is a sales hit, it could cause consumers to re-think Ford and the products it peddles, meaning Ford has a lot riding on this car.
"I think we're going to play big with this car," said Antonio Baltar, product market manager for Fusion.
In order to shoot to the top of the class, Baltar says that a mid-size sedan "needs to be reliable, needs to have so much technology, [and] needs to be fuel-efficient."
Ford is trying to sell the Fusion as meeting all those needs, and while reliability takes some time to measure, Ford will happily point to its MyFordTouch and Sync infotainment systems as proof of the technology and its 47 mpg rating (up to 37 mpg for non-hybrids) for the 2013 Fusion Hybrid as proof that it achieves solid fuel economy.
What really makes the new Fusion stand out, though, is its design. The new car has attractive lines that turn heads, following the lead of Hyundai's Sonata, which proved that mid-size cars can be lookers when it was redesigned for the 2011 model year.
"That's the secret sauce we are bringing to the segment," Baltar said about the car's design.
"For sure, the pressure this segment has demonstrated…. [we] need to stay tuned and monitor competitors," Baltar said. "We have these two big, ginormous competitors…for sure, they will be under pressure with the new Malibu, new Altima, new Fusion."
Both external and internal challenges await the Fusion. Some of those challenges involve criticisms leveled at the car by the motoring press—we've driven the car and while we were impressed overall, we think Ford may be pricing it too high and the rear seat is tight for a mid-sizer—and some involve external factors, such as the state of the economy, the price of gas, or consumer preferences for one class over another.
"We have seen [with] our research that the fuel price affects a lot of the behavior for this segment," Baltar said.
Of course, the biggest challenge is getting Honda and Toyota shoppers to take a look at their local Ford store. And Baltar knows that it won't be easy, no matter how well the Fusion is received by the press.
"I think it will be a big fight, a dog fight to conquest this customer," Baltar said.
There's no guarantee that the Fusion will sell well.
"Not having enough exposure in this hot segment (by not selling enough retail cars) has many potential negatives," Kim said. "These include being off a huge chunk of consumers’ radar, and hurting residuals for the brand as Ford will then be forced to sell a lot of these cars to rental fleets."
There's also sometimes a disconnect between what journalists want and what buyers want.
"The Fusion is a beautifully styled car (arguably the prettiest mid-size sedan right now) with wonderful drive characteristics. As such, it is guaranteed to be positively reviewed by the media—it has all of the attributes that journalists love: great style, excellent handling, and lots of neat technology," Kim said. "However, mainstream mid-size consumers, namely Middle America, cares much less about those attributes. The two things that really matter are price and interior size. Unfortunately, these two areas are where Fusion struggles."
That's the dilemma faced by Fusion—it's a great-looking car that's fun to drive, but will those attributes win out over practicality and value?
The only way to know for sure is to sit back and watch the sales race unfold. From an enthusiast's standpoint, it might be the best mid-size currently on sale. But we're not sure it can win over the masses without a reduction in price (not much can be done about rear-seat space now).
The Fusion is big. We're just not sure if it's big enough in the rear seat to play in Peoria.Related Vehicles: 2013 ford fusion hybrid | 2012 kia optima | 2013 hyundai sonata | 2013 nissan altima | 2013 honda accord | 2012 toyota camry | 2013 ford fusion | 2013 chevrolet malibu