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Published: Wednesday, 9/19/2012

MIDSIZE CAR STARS ON TIMES SQUARE

Ford trains sights on Camry with redesigned 2013 Fusion

Automaker starts big-city publicity blitz for midsize car

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DEARBORN, Mich. — Ford Motor Co. hopes the redesigned Fusion will finally trounce Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry.

The Fusion has become Ford's best-selling car since it went on sale in 2005, and is the fourth-best selling midsize car in the United States right now, at 182,000 cars through August. It's a key moneymaker for Ford.

But the company hopes the new styling, improved fuel economy, and features such as automatic parallel parking on the 2013 version will help it trounce the perennial leader, the Camry.

Ford enlisted American Idol host Ryan Seacrest to introduce the redesigned sedan alongside the company’s chief executive officer, Alan Mulally, in New York's Times Square Tuesday. It also is holding events in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and on the lawn of its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

The publicity blitz underscores the importance of the Fusion to Ford, which is rolling out the car to U.S. dealerships later this month.

The midsize car segment is the biggest in the United States, making up half of all car sales so far this year. It's also one of the most hotly contested. Three of the Fusion's biggest rivals — the Accord from Honda Motor Co., the Altima from Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., and the Chevrolet Malibu from General Motors Co. — are also new this fall.

The price of the Fusion starts at $21,700, which is less than the current Camry and in line with the new Altima and Accord. But the price rises quickly. A top-of-the-line Fusion with Ford's automatic parking system, lane departure warning, navigation, and other goodies is $34,580. An Altima with similar features is $31,950.

The base engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that gets up to 33 miles per gallon on the highway, is carried over from the old Fusion. But there are four new engine choices: a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost that's expected to get 37 mpg; a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost in its top-of-the-line Titanium model; a hybrid that gets an industry-best 47 mpg in the city, and a plug-in hybrid, called the Fusion Energi, that runs for longer on the battery and should get the equivalent of more than 100 mpg.

Ford also incorporated feedback from global focus groups, because the Fusion will be sold all over the world. It redesigned the headlights, for example, after Chinese customers found them too sinister.

The 2013 has more rear-leg room thanks to thinner seats up front. Ford says it has used better materials.

Among the options are Ford's Sync voice-controlled entertainment system and its My Ford Touch dashboard screen, which has had some glitches but is still cited by many customers as the reason they buy a Ford, because the technology is far ahead of some rivals.

Other options include a lane-keeping system, which uses cameras to monitor whether a driver is staying in his lane and alerts him if he swerves off course.

There's also a system that parallel parks the car automatically, a blind-spot warning system, and a cross-traffic alert monitor that beeps if traffic is coming while the car is backing out of a parking space. Toyota only offers a blind-spot monitor on the Camry. The 2013 Accord has lane-departure warning and a forward collision warning system.

Neither the Accord nor the Camry has the automatic parking feature.

Analysts and fans were wowed by the design when Ford showed the car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year. The Fusion is likely to follow the success of other recent Ford redesigns, including the hot-selling Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle.

The Fusion can get expensive quickly when buyers pile on options. It's unclear if Ford will see much demand for the hybrid and plug-in hybrid, because sales of the previous Fusion hybrid were anemic.

The Fusion is a strong new model but must duke it out in a hyper-competitive midsize segment.



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