It's been ages since a Detroit automaker attempted to turn the public launch of a new car into a bona fide media event, as they were once able to do when they controlled 75 percent of the market and people still had landline phones. Ford went all out today, staging a spectacle in New York's Times Square and other cities to launch the 2013 Ford Fusion and tout its impressive 47 mpg mileage figure. Whether more than a handful of buyers will opt for it remains as mysterious as Ryan Seacrest's celebrity.
The Fusion ranks as the key launch for Ford in the next 12 months, testing whether Ford can overcome lingering quality questions and produce a midsize sedan that competes head-on with the class-leading models from the Japanese. Much of today's show business -- featuring Seacrest and the giveaway of 100 new Fusions -- involved touting the 47 city/47 highway fuel efficiency number of the Fusion Hybrid, which handily beats the Toyota Camry Hybrid's 40 mpg, but doesn't surpass the Toyota Prius' 50 mpg. (For some reason, Ford leaves the Prius out of its definition of "midsize" sedans, which the Prius has grown to fit.)
It's an impressive feat of engineering, but Ford has not been successful in the past at selling hybrids in large volumes. Through August, Ford had sold 7,127 Fusion hybrids out of 181,165 total copies. Among all automakers, only Toyota has sold hybrids en masse -- although Ford appears ready to make the push with the Fusion by cutting the base price of the hybrid model by $1,700 to $27,200.
Meanwhile, the fuel economy competition among non-hybrid models poses a much tougher challenge for Ford. The most efficient of the Fusion's three four-cylinder engine choices will return a combined 29 mpg city/highway -- matching the 2013 Honda Accord, but trailing the new 2013 Nissan Altima and the diesel Volkswagen Passat. We'll have our own drive of the new Fusion shortly, and report back quickly.
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