May 3rd, 2005
The Fusion at Ford
A new car, borne of a new strategy
"It's going to take us a
while to get there,"
admits Ford Group Vice Pres-ident of North American Operations Jim
Yet the new Fusion, and its Milan and Zephyr sisters, are a clear
indication of the attempt at Ford to fuse its global operations
together, while working smarter in differentiating for local markets
Ford's strategy depends
on retaining enough of the brand's value to make capitalizing on cars
such as the Mustang
launched in 2002 and the first of the CD3 cars
For North America this
fall comes the Fusion
Ė a midsize sedan
with Mercury and Lincoln sisters on a variant of the
platform itself set to spawn a total of twelve cars in the coming years.
In Europe, incidentally, Fusion badges a rather different type of
car: Ford's Fiesta-based entry to Europe's burgeoning multi-activity
vehicle (MAV) market, which was first shown at the 2002 L.A. Auto Show
and rumored to be coming to America
derives from Joe Baker's
2003 Ford 427 Concept,
but since Fusion is front-wheel-drive and 427 Concept was
rear-wheel-drive, the proportions are somewhat different
2006 Ford Fusion -
In an era where fragmentation of the market has become a phenomenon in
most every aspect from magazines to cable television, Ford replaces the
with two cars: the smaller
and the larger
Fusion is based on
the CD3 platform underpinning the Mazda6, with a few mechanical
variations and a rather different approach to design
2006 Mercury Milan -
shares 90% of its parts (by value) with the
yet manages a touch of European sophistication - certainly, more so
inside in its vertical dashboard layout than the
with which it will share showroom space. Zephyr's dashboard
is more traditionally American in that it is horizontal in form.
For as much
as there is to the Milan's rear, one might also consider that it seems
apt: Mercury wants a Eurocentric appeal. The division talks of
progressive style, amounting to vertical, waterfall grilles; HID
headlamps that tower slightly above them; LED rear lights, and
chrome-ringed analogue clocks, together with suede inserts and
Mercury's tweaks now have a better chance of succeeding, both due to the
better platforms that Ford provides - namely, those of the
Escape; Five Hundred,
and to the increased clarity of the differentiation itself
2006 Lincoln Zephyr -
inside, one of the best dashboards to sit behind in this corner of the
market. Real trees went into its production, with wood; leather seats,
and chrome-tinged details lending a traditional feel to the
satin-nickel-finished console. For more on the Zephyr, see
'2006 Lincoln Zephyr Strives for Wider Appeal'
We have been
rather enthusiastic about Fordís prospects of late, most recently in electing
Pickup Truck of
the Bear, 2005
'Getting Better All the Time').
F-150 may be the nation's
best-selling vehicle, but the superlative execution that has followed the
current-generation, launched late in 2003, was by no means inevitable. Analysts
balked at the level of effort Ford invested, noting the extra $1,200 in costs
over the outgoing generation, and perhaps even Ford itself was a touch nervous.
After all, had
Henry Ford II himself not once canned the excellent
Lincoln Continental because it was
expensive to build, preferring not to worry potential shareholders as the
company went public in 1956? Was this not the company which once fielded one of
the most notorious bean-counters ever, Robert McNamara, whose push to make the
Thunderbird a four-seater
pulled the car away from Chevrolet's glamorous, perennially-focused
Corvette? Had being forced
to follow GM's incentives not depleted Ford's cash reserves enough, without
increasing capital expenditure in the hope that the market still valued Ford
enough to note and appreciate the results?
instincts appear to have been right: F-150
customers agreed with the strategy, with 50% opting for the two highest trim
at the truck's launch almost two years ago
(Ford Tough, David Magee, John Wiley &
Wall Street too has reason to agree; the company recently posted earnings of
$1.2 billion in the first quarter - this, after losing $980 million as recently
as 2002, and as much as $5.45 billion in 2001.
There are still
concerns, largely related to whether Ford's focus on profitability is costing
market share. "The
Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands finished 2004 with 18.3 percent of the market," remarked Amy Wilson for Automotive News
find a lower annual share figure, you must go back to 1928, when Ford switched
production from the Model T to the Model A and ended the year with 15.8 percent
of the market"
(ĎFordís share prognosis raises concerns; company says its
domestic brands will lose ground in 2005,í Automotive News,
April 27th, 2005).
We should point
Wilson also noted an increase in Ford's domestic-brand car
share, which climbed to 13.2% this past quarter from 12.8% in the first quarter
Ford - whose strategy depends on retaining
enough of the brand's value to make capitalizing on cars such as the
Mustang strategically credible - remains convinced that tide will
be turned in the medium term.
"The biggest opportunity for share is going to come when the Fusion and its
sister products hit the road," noted chairman and CEO Bill Ford, quoted in
the same article.
Fusion - and sisters
Mercury Milan and
Lincoln Zephyr - hit the
road this fall. We reported on the Zephyr
at some length in February
but feel it is important to consider the trio as not only new
products, but as evidence that the nature of product development at Ford is
changing - and changing, largely, for the better.
We have been
vehement in noting that the task which GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has ahead of
him is the complete revamp of GM's global operations, and not merely the
creation of one generation of peripheral, media-pleasing hits. In our view, the
key for General Motors is to adapt the global organization to accept and empower
people who are able to balance the use of global platforms and parts that are
available to them with an understanding of how to adapt these to the local
markets their brands serve.
Given this, we
find the thoughts of Ford's head of product creation in North America, Phil
Martens, encouraging. "You want to win
regionally," he admits.
"But to succeed, you have to work globally.
take advantage of our global network, and that's what we are doing."
David Magee, John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
Ford Group Vice
President of North American Operations Jim Padilla freely admits to author David
Magee, "it's going to take us a while to
get there." Of course, such fusion of
global operations, fused again with a renewed commitment toward respecting the
potential - and potential for differentiation - between each of the brands under
Ford's corporate umbrella, will take time.
Fusion/ Milan/ Zephyr, being based
on the Mazda6
indeed the first products of the new effort.
If Lew Veraldi was the Father of the
Taurus, then Phil Martens, once managing director of
product planning; design, and development at Mazda, is the Father of the
David Magee notes that,
"when Martens arrived at Mazda, the company was in the
midst of a product drought and, under his leadership, bet the farm,
putting four entirely new architectures and frames in place.
result was critical hits with the Mazda6; the RX-8, and the Mazda3"
Tough, David Magee, John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
2.1-inches wider and 3.4-inches longer than the
with a 2.1-inch longer wheelbase and improved legroom (which Ford says was
tested by designers wearing size-14 shoes), the front-wheel-drive
represents the somewhat more
traditional, Ford-ified midsize version of the
Mazdaís commendably sporty platform - an architecture dubbed
has a better chance of succeeding than did CDW27,
Contour/ Mystique venture we recently
cited in a remembrance of former Ford chairman and CEO Sir Alex J. Trotman, who
passed away last week
was somewhat ahead of its time, and did not have the organization backing behind
it to ensure success, a lack of integration perhaps reflected in the $6 billion
that the Mondeo was
said to have cost Ford to develop. By contrast, the three newest
CD3 sisters have been
rumored to run about a sixth of this.
platform features equal front and rear tracks; double-wishbone front suspension,
and a multi-link at the rear. Weight distribution, as seen on the
launched in 2002, has run about 60:40.
stabilizers are 16mm at front and rear;
runs 23mm and 21mm stabilizers, which - when one considers that stabilizers
create roll on a straight, uneven road - again illustrates Ford's emphasis on
the mainstream: ride quality over ultimate roadholding.
Ford claims that its latest tweaks have boosted torsional rigidity by 12.7% over
due to a roof that is said to be up to 36% stronger than required by U.S. roof
crush standards which take effect in 2009.
Furthering the more mainstream values of
safety, all-wheel-drive is expected to figure for 2007.
When Ford first
badged a car,
Fusion, back in January 2002 when it showed the
Fusion Concept at the L.A. Auto Show, it talked of the multi-activity vehicle
concept as being tough. While that small SUV concept went on to sell in
Europe rather than the U.S., our new Fusion
adheres to the tough visual language Group
Vice President of Global Design J Mays
has envisioned for the Ford brand and, slightly more loosely, to Ford designer
2003 Ford 427 Concept, as shown at the North American International
Auto Show in Detroit two years ago. J Mays maintains that
"Fusion is a closer sibling to the Mustang than anything
else in our line-up," even as this is not quite the design that the
427 Concept promised. Baker admits as much, suggesting to
Automotive News earlier this year,
"the Fusion isn't the production version of
front-wheel-drive car whereas the 427 was a rear-wheel-drive car. But I think
theyíve done a really good job of translating it to a front-wheel-drive car."
starís work on 427 Concept becomes part of Fordís new design language,'
Automotive News, January 27th, 2005).
Baker, who is widely credited with both the
427 Concept and Ford's new three-bar grille, has also
worked on the
2004 Bronco Concept, and the
Fusion volume is expected to hit 160,000, annually,
suggests Ford car marketing manager Ben Poore
(ĎFusion debuts on Mazda6 platform,í
Automotive News, January 9th, 2005).
For its part, Mercury wants to move 40,000 '06
Milans annually. Milan shares 90% of its parts (by value) with the
Fusion, but the differentiation is enough, Mercury
hopes, to credibly lower the average age of its buyers (61 at the close of last
('2005 Chicago: Milan will be most affordable Mercury; awd
version planned for '07,' Automotive News, February 8th, 2005).
Milan will be available
with DOHC engines featuring intake variable camshaft timing - either an
undersquare 160hp @ 6,500rpm, 150lb-ft @ 6,250rpm 2.3-liter 4-cylinder used in
the Mazda6, or the
familiar, oversquare 210hp @ 6,250rpm, 200lb-ft @ 4,750rpm 3.0-liter V6
Duratec, here down on the Mazda6's
220hp @ 6,300rpm, but up slightly on its 192lb-ft @ 5,000rpm. Mazda, it turns
out, toys with the heads of the Duratec to achieve the parameters it desires.
versions will have a five-speed-manual standard; optional, and mandatory with
the V6 models, is the new six-speed automatic. Mazda will sell you a five-speed
manual with the V6-equipped Mazda6,
but makes do with a five-speed automatic as its self-shifting option in the
four-cylinder. Both variants offer a rather sporty, low 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock,
dropping to 2.5 turns with the optional 17-inch wheels. The
Mazda6 makes do with 2.54
turns, no matter the options.
As Automotive News recently reported,
Fordís second-generation hybrid technology will debut in the
Milan for 2008. These will supplement the
Mercury Mariner hybrid
expected in the fall, and the
Mazda Tribute Hybrid which will arrive in 2007.
Chairman and CEO Bill Ford is known to be a hybrid advocate, and remains
convinced that the cost of hybrid powertrains will drop over time.
That said, as
we noted late last year, Ford is hedging its bets
Where there are hybrids in Ford's strategy, there is also the unbridled
performance of the
Ford GT and
Mustang - performance that is desperately needed in vehicles such as the
Five Hundred sedan, no more than adequate with the current, hand-me-down
3.0-liter Duratec. Ford is not talking
Fusion curb weights quite
yet, but the
weighs in at between 3,102 lbs (4-cylinder,
5-speed) and 3,347 lbs (6-cylinder, automatic).
This is where
Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) comes in. SVT
has been modifying both performance-minded and more mainstream Fords since 1991.
"Think of them as very sophisticated corporate
hot rodders," suggest authors Patrick C.
Paternie and Dan Lyons
(Modern American Muscle,
Patrick C. Paternie & Dan Lyons, MBI, 2003).
Now under '05 Mustang Chief Engineer Hau Thai-Tang, the division has, according to Martens, expanded to 200 people
from 120 ('SVT
Boost: Ford sets a 5-model limit; Focus, Fusion among likely candidates).
recent years, SVT has faded somewhat from view. Thai-Tang promises this will
change, as he takes over both SVT from John Coletti and the Advanced Product
Creation Group (APC) from Chris Theodore.
"We need to do a better job of
getting the message out,"
"Our challenge from our CEO (Bill Ford) was to do (the Ford GT) and get it
out on time for the centennial. We did that. I think we established
credibility internally and externally.
"Now you will see our focus shift back to more affordable cars"
(Road & Track,
Thai-Tang, SVT is likely to get much closer to the product development process
of the vehicles it works on, thinking about SVT derivatives from the very
beginnings of the base car. SVT may also eventually benefit from a consolidation
of all performance-minded engineering at Ford, leaving cars such as Mercury's
(now defunct) Marauder
to be tuned by SVT, rather than the platform team.
Although Martens has set a five-vehicle limit
("if you get beyond that, it really gets too expensive...
it's difficult to fund and manage the cycle" he told
Automotive News), SVTís impact will be felt far beyond the five models chosen to overtly wear its badge.
The first SVT vehicle, the $40,000
2007 Shelby Cobra GT500, is due in the summer
of í06, to be followed by the
Ford Sport Trac Adrenalin. The
next cars slated for the SVT badge are not yet announced but, certainly, the
Fusion platform makes sense. It is unclear
at this point how much SVT had to do with the Mazdaspeed6,
but that 274hp, 280lb-ft, 15.6-psi turbocharged 2.3-liter all-wheel-drive car
demonstrates what can be done with the CD3. Mazda claims to have pushed the
Mazda6's torsional rigidity by approximately 50%, boasting 25% and 37% higher
front and rear spring rates, respectively, and 24mm and 23mm stabilizer bars.
Ford 427 Concept
designer Joe Baker notes of the three-bar grille he penned,
"I wanted to
create something that could kind of be pushed and pulled in either direction and
still remain essentially the same thing"
('Rising starís work on 427 Concept becomes part of Fordís new
design language,' Automotive News, January
has stretched itself globally in an effort to return to the basics of its
brands, and of the design; engineering, and manufacturing industry in which it
Quite unlike the vertical integration of both
former chairman and CEO Henry Ford II (at times) and of former CEO Jac Nasser, the new way of doing business focuses on the core product,
while horizontally integrating the company's departments.
This fusion not only has the potential to create better products (much as Lew
Veraldi did with the Taurus twenty years ago in a far more localized
organizational revolution), but it may well safeguard against stretching some
brands beyond recognition. As author David Magee points out, sharing
parts between a Ford and a Mazda is one thing; between a Jaguar and a Ford,
Gradually, Ford appears to be moving toward an understanding of
this, while at the same time taking full advantage of its reach as a global
company. The results will be interesting to watch.