Ford plans to get rid of the traditional Fusion sedan in favor of a longer, taller and more brawny version.
The new design, which has no scheduled release date, is intended to capture buyers who drive the Subaru Outback wagon and maybe even the BMW 5 Series hatchback.
“While current Ford Fusion production ends in a few years, we’ll likely continue to use the name because of its awareness, positive imagery and value with consumers,” said Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications manager. “However, it’s too soon to speculate on what that new vehicle may look like.”
He went on to emphasize that consumers are moving away from cars into crossovers, SUVs and hatchbacks.
“All car sales are down,” Levine said. “We’re going where the consumer wants to go. They want vehicles with more ride height, more interior space, more versatility. Customers love the Fusion, but look at how vehicles are evolving. We’re pivoting to new silhouettes, silhouettes that better meet what consumers are looking for today.”
No question, the Ford Fusion has a loyal following.
“It’s been a good reliable car, a good seller for us over the last 10 years or so,” said Joe Wood, new car sales manager at Northgate Ford in Port Huron. “The fact that Ford is decreasing the number of cars alarms people who are loyal Fusion buyers. Keeping the name, a solid name brand, would be a smart idea.”
Industry analysts are watching Ford and its Fusion redesign with interest.
“Ford is looking to spoil Subaru’s impressive sales growth with a lifted wagon,” said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific, Inc. “This type of car is really the anti-SUV. It looks to have all of the functionality and utility of a crossover without the stigma of hauling kids or groceries. The lower-than-an-SUV height helps with loading kayaks on the roof and has proven to resonate with people of a certain lifestyle. These buyers tend to be in very good financial health and are highly sought after at the retail level.”
The plan to move out of cars into trucks and SUVs is a consistent message emphasized and re-emphasized by Ford. The F-Series line is a Fortune 500 company all by itself.
Yet some industry observers question the strategy of moving away from the Fusion sedan to a bigger silhouette.
“There’s not a lot of sales volume in the sport wagon. There’s not,” said Eric Noble, a product development consultant and professor of vehicle technology at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. “When Ford announced it was dropping the Fusion, three or four other midsized carmakers danced. Fusion is a very competitive car. The only sport wagon that has consistently sold well in North America in the last 25 years is the Subaru Outback. And that’s a segment of 1. So Ford is going from a segment that sells really well to a segment that has really never sold well.”
He questioned whether Ford CEO Jim Hackett is exercising questionable judgment while bowing to pressure from investors upset about underwhelming stock performance; and whether the dramatic announcement to eliminate the Fusion sedan move and some other cars for the more lucrative SUVs and trucks isn’t a shortsighted strategy.
Apart from the popular Ford Mustang, all cars are on the chopping block.
“Why change a winning recipe like the Ford Fusion sedan? This makes no sense,” Noble said. “The car is made in Mexico. If Ford can’t make a profit off the Fusion, there’s a bigger problem.”
Industry observers have challenged the leadership of Hackett since he took the helm of Ford a year ago.
“It’s like Jim felt like he needed to make some major announcement to convince Wall Street he was making big moves,” Noble said. “(CEO) Mary (Barra) at GM has been very successfully doing that, making big announcements. GM has been very savvy about looking really busy while remaining firmly rooted in the conventional business.”
While Europeans sell and buy wagons, Americans generally do not.
Noble said word choice will be crucial to Ford in coming months.
“The word ‘wagon’ itself is repulsive to 8 of 10 car buyers,” Noble said. “Many of those buyers are boomers and (Gen) Xers who grew up in wagons and never want one. Europeans sell wagons. They sell very low volumes and don’t call them wagons.”
In 2017, consumers purchased 209,623 Fusions and 188,886 Outbacks, according to manufacturer sales data. In 2018, Fusion sold 86,978 vehicles while Outback sold 90,978 vehicles.
Fusion sales have continuously declined over the last few years while Subaru has gained sales overall.
“Ford adds way too much complexity with the Fusion. There are too many different models, too many different kinds of engines, all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive, hybrid or not. It’s just too much,” Sullivan said. “It prevents them from being as profitable as a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. It’s time to now pivot the Fusion brand into a Subaru-like vehicle from a domestic automaker.”
The Fusion redesign will probably directly compete with the Buick Regal, he said.
Levine said no time frame has been established for the Fusion redesign or its reveal.
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-222-6512 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @phoebesaid
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