"Fusion had its best year ever in 2011," said Zack Nakos, product marketing manager for the Fusion. "We sold 248,000 of them."
Ultimately, the impetus to reinvent the Fusion rather than simply update it came from the top. It was Ford CEO Alan Mulally who urged the designers to start with a clean sheet of paper.
The idea was to come up with a fresh, appealing sedan that would give Ford more of a presence in the car market here. (Like the other domestics, Ford makes most of its money on trucks and SUVs. The three automakers account for 60 percent of U.S. truck and SUV sales, but have only a third of the car bazaar.)
And the fact that Ford will expand its Flatrock, Mich., assembly plant to augment Fusion production in Hermosillo, Mexico, suggests the company expects to sell significantly more Fusions.
The Fusion makeover was complete, from the exterior and interior design to the plethora of new technologies and fuel-sipping powertrains, which include a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, two EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, and a base normally aspirated four.
The gas-engine cars and the hybrid will go on sale in the fall, Nakos said. The plug-in hybrid, which Ford says will be the most fuel efficient midsize sedan in the world, will hit the showrooms at the end of the year.
The design team, headed by 43-year-old Chris Hamilton, viewed the project as a quest for a beautiful antidote to boredom, and a sedan that looked more expensive than it was. What they finally wrought was a car that doesn't look anything like the current Fusion or any of the other kids on the midsize block. It's a sleek, muscular, aggressive design that makes you take notice.
As Nakos put it: "It's fair to say it doesn't look like anything else on the road."
The styling, which features elongated headlights, a sculpted deck, and a longer, more sloping roof than the current car has, is unique. The only possibly borrowed element is the trapezoidal grille, which evokes an Aston Martin - and perhaps Hamilton's British beginnings.
The appealing design, according to Nakos, is the "emotional" frosting on a rational cake that includes top-drawer fuel economy and available technology such as a lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, and a gas-saving automatic stop-start system that shuts off the engine at a stationary idle and then seamlessly restarts it when the brake pedal is released.
As for these cars' anticipated fuel economy, it's rather impressive. The 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine (EcoBoost means the engine is both turbocharged and directly injected) is expected to get 26 m.p.g. city and 37 highway. Ford thinks the new hybrid model will get a best-in-class 47 city and 44 highway, and the plug-in hybrid is expected to get 100 MPGe, the m.p.g. equivalent for electrified vehicles.
Like the Focus, the new Fusion is a "global car," meaning it will be sold in the same form throughout the world, rather than being significantly reworked for different markets. It will go on sale next year in Europe and Asia bearing Ford of Europe's Mondeo nameplate.
Contact columnist Al Haas