In 1986, Ford upended the automotive world by introducing its new Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable mid-size sedans featuring revolutionary slippery shapes that some derided as "jelly-bean" design. Just to emphasize the point, the company rented a Hollywood sound stage to launch the vehicles. And they did, indeed, go on to overturn the design launguage of just about every automotive grand operating in the United States for a decade.
Ford executives realize their new 2013 Ford Fusion isn't likely to have the same effect. But they clearly are stroking for a design statement with the new vehicles that they introduced at the North American International Auto Show this morning. The new Fusion — aimed at the heart of a huge and crucial segment of the U.S. market where Ford has been relatively moribund — is a sleek stunner compared with others in its segment, featuring a high rear end, long rear window and a spiffy new front grille with horizontal striations.
The new Fusion also is the first sedan, Ford said, to offer so many powertrain options (gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid like the Chevrolet Volt) and advanced technologies such as a "lane-keeping" system and adaptive cruise control.
The 2013 Fusion represents the next generation of Ford's efforts to develop global vehicle platforms that lend themselves to a variety of local models around the world; this one is known as the Ford Mondeo in Europe, for instance.
The car also represents an interesting new proposition for Ford in that it is among the first of the company's new models that are building on its previous but young generation of nameplates that served as the basis of Ford's product renaissance under CEO Alan Mulally over the last five years. Ford sold about a quarter-million Fusion units in the United States last year, and Fusion already has become Ford's top "conquest" nameplate.
"The new Fusion is starting from a position of strength," declared Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, at NAIAS on Monday morning.
But Ford sensed an opportunity to get an even bigger slice of the crucial mid-size sedan segment, where Volkswagen also has made a bold play with its new 2012 Passat. Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the standards in the segment for the last couple of decades, were showing weakness even before natural disasters last year robbed both companies of production and inventories.
And Ford sees sales of vehicles based on the Mondeo-Fusion platform as a global opportunity. "Eventually, we'll sell one million vehicles a year in this segment, with 10 models [around the world] by the end of 2014," promised Ford CEO Alan Mulally.
Building strength upon strength is something that the Big Three automakers haven't been able to do for a while. For Ford, Fusion may be a start.
Below, watch Ford's video on the importance of the midsize car market: