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LAT's Dan Neil gets 52 mpg in Fusion Hybrid

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2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: 52 mpg and the darkness before dawn

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On a test drive of a Fusion Hybrid last week in West L.A. traffic, I managed, without much trouble, to get 52 mpg in mixed city-highway driving. Wait, so, has somebody invented the car of the future and didn't tell us?

Even when Detroit manages to do something right, the timing and execution are off.

By DAN NEIL

December 19, 2008

As we know from the works of Cormac McCarthy, despair can be kind of gratifying. And yet, as much as I hate to disturb our national mood of decline, I have some good news regarding the auto industry. You may return to your comfort drinking presently.

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, and its twin, the Mercury Milan Hybrid, are mid-to-full-size sedans that seat five in surprising comfort and offer a full-size trunk measuring around 12 cubic feet. They measure 190.6 inches long and weigh a goodly 3,720 pounds. The gas-electric output is 191 horsepower and zero to 60 mph acceleration is under 9 seconds.

The retail price of a nicely equipped Fusion Hybrid -- with blandishments such as rearview camera, blind-spot alert and 17-inch alloy wheels -- is $27,270. With the applicable federal tax credit, the car should cost consumers about $25,000, I estimate (final numbers have not been announced).

On a test drive of a Fusion Hybrid last week in West L.A. traffic, I managed, without much trouble, to get 52 mpg in mixed city-highway driving.

Wait, so, has somebody invented the car of the future and didn't tell us?

It's a worthy question. The scolding undercurrent of recent congressional hearings on the auto-industry bailout was the notion that Detroit had failed to invest in next-generation technology that could help wean us off foreign oil. Not so. What they did fail to do was sufficiently commercialize this technology so that it was ready and waiting at dealerships when people got stampeded this year by spiraling gas prices.

Had Ford made a few hundred thousand of these cars available in June -- along with the financing to sell them -- we'd be erecting 50-foot equestrian statues of William Clay Ford and Alan Mulally in city squares, and the streets of Dearborn, Mich., would be repaved with diamond cobblestones.

As it was, the meme of national incompetence and inferiority vis-a-vis the Japanese carmakers -- Toyota, Honda -- was again reinforced. Of course, Detroit can't build a desirable high-mileage car. We're the country that bungled Iraq and bred a Bernard Madoff, that turned the mortgage market into three-card monte and put Britney back on top. It would seem almost a shame to interrupt the soothing pleasures of such self-pity.

And yet, here we are, with a car that seemed purely theoretical -- a desirable, affordable, no-compromise sedan that gets 40-plus mpg -- about to show up at Ford dealerships in the first quarter of 2009. Somebody ought to tell Thomas Friedman.

Now what? Now people have to buy them.

For all the game-changing glow around the Ford Fusion Hybrid, it's actually a fairly conservative and programmatic approach to gas-electric propulsion. The system is an evolution of the hybrid system in the Ford Escape. The battery is nickel-metal hydride, not lithium (lithium chemistry batteries are lighter and more energy-dense, but they are also expensive and finicky, which is to say, flammable).

The nickel battery will please many in the green-car movement who argue that the search for the perfect battery -- a la the Chevy Volt -- has only delayed development of the good. ( Edmund Burke said the worst thing a man can do is do nothing because he can do only a little.)

The Sanyo-supplied battery pack -- 270 volts and 1.4 kWh, if that helps -- is 30% smaller in volume and 23% lighter than the one in the Escape. The smaller battery is easier to cool, requiring only cabin air ducted from underneath the back seat.

The battery supplies enough glowing ponies to propel the car to speeds up to 47 mph on all-electric power. This is key to the car's in-city mileage. On my 50-mile drive, I was able to feather-foot the throttle enough to accelerate to commuting speeds without waking the gas engine. When I needed to accelerate faster, I could dip in to the engine horsepower briefly to overcome inertia, then maintain momentum with the electric motor. At one stage I was getting 63 mpg.

To make a full-size car go fast on electric power alone, you need a boatload of voltage. But high-voltage systems involve increased impedance and heat losses, which is wasted energy. To unknot this problem, the Fusion uses a variable-voltage converter that temporarily steps up system voltage during peak demand or hard braking, when the battery is forcefully recharged.

This is actually one of two high-tech converters on board: The second system provides juice to an array of high-voltage systems such as steering, air-conditioning and brakes.

There's a lot of other arcane technology that goes into a car, like reams of software code that allow all the various components to talk sweetly to one another. But perhaps the most valuable bit of software is the wetware, the stuff between the driver's ears. To that end, the Fusion Hybrid uses a delightful, LCD instrument cluster with modules that coach drivers on how to save fuel. In one panel, the more lightly you drive, the more leaves that grow on a set of animated vines. You can go from lead-footed, gas-bingeing knucklehead (like me) to abstemious hyper-miler in a matter of minutes. Brilliant.

So, is this the better mousetrap we've been waiting for? Well, there's a problem. The price of gas has dropped by two-thirds in six months, thereby de-motivating buyers who might have been willing to bear the incremental cost of a hybrid. What we really need is an increased federal gas tax, but the chances of that getting passed in Congress are comparable to my chances of being named Miss Universe.

Ugh. I'm getting depressed again.

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It will sell when gas goes back up...which it will.

Chris

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I like this vehicle.

Any idea as to when GM is going to get its two mode into Malibu?

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You're an idiot.

'sticks and stones', my friend...

Just wait and see. This is too big of a success not to be marginalized by something subjective and stupid such as cupholders, 'image' or styling/grain of the dash pad. The precedent has already been set with the Escape Hybrid.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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this is an impressive car, and impressive looking as a hybrid. but I don't think overall it's appealing, at least in design. i also think that this is not the best time for this to come out, since gas prices are so cheap now, because of that i think it will be a quiet launch and won't ride a massive PR wave. however, when gas goes up again, it will ride a huge whisper campaign that made the Escape hybrid almost as ubiquitous and populous an idea [suv hybrid? tilts head in interest] as the prius.

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this is an impressive car, and impressive looking as a hybrid. but I don't think overall it's appealing, at least in design. i also think that this is not the best time for this to come out, since gas prices are so cheap now, because of that i think it will be a quiet launch and won't ride a massive PR wave. however, when gas goes up again, it will ride a huge whisper campaign that made the Escape hybrid almost as ubiquitous and populous an idea [suv hybrid? tilts head in interest] as the prius.

Two things:

1) It was already programmed as part of the MCE, so they weren't going to just stop it just because gas prices fell off the table two months ago.

2) The geniuses on Washington... need I say more?

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Oh don't worry... The begrudging positive press is just a stopgap until the media finds some way to kill this program.

Man, you're too jaded. Ford is coming out with decent products, of which I have been critical for years when they were making crap. I am giving them tremendous credit for finally making good cars. Anyone can do it, including GM and Chrysler if they get they right managers like Ford did with Mr. Boeing. The reason the media attacked domestics in the past, and still continue to do with some is because their products were are still not up with the foreign competition. So far, Ford has been getting good press. Your assumption that the media is conspiring against the big three is getting silly, and delusional.

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The precedent has already been set with the Escape Hybrid.

Because the Escape Hybrid is a wall of plastic once you sit inside it, otherwise, it's selling well here in the Canadian market.

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Is this really an "evolution" of the hybrid system in the Escape? I thought it was a two mode? I guess that could be considered an evolution but I would think of an evolution as nothing more than simple improvements to the existing system.

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