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Ford Previews Fleet Vehicles for 2012 and Beyond

Ford’s West Coast headquarters welcomed fleet customers to show off the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion, discuss hybrid, electric and EcoBoost engine technologies, update plans for the Lincoln brand and talk about Ford’s residual value strategy.

March 27, 2012

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The 2013-MY Ford Fusion
The 2013-MY Ford Fusion

The Ford fleet gang was at Ford’s West Coast headquarters last week to show off some new product and to talk strategy.

As such, I pass along my notes, information and thoughts to you. Much of the product info is already out there, and we didn’t get to drive anything, but it’s always good to get a manufacturer’s update focused on fleet, all under one roof. John Ruppert, general manager, commercial and government operations and Gerry Koss, fleet marketing manager were on hand to show and tell.

Product-wise — and fleet importance wise — the big news is the 2013 Fusion, of which Ford had a pre-production model on display. The first thing that grabs you about the new Fusion is its longer, wider stance combined with a faster, sportier look. The narrow headlights and razor-like grille state “this is not your vanilla mid-size sedan.” The Fusion, Ford’s best-selling fleet car, has been evolving into the “fun to drive” category ever since its introduction in the 2006 model year.

Fusion buyers will have a choice of three powerplants (the naturally aspirated 2.5L i-VCT I-4, turbocharged 1.6L EcoBoost I-4 and turbocharged 2.0L EcoBoost I-4) as well as hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. The 1.6L EcoBoost engine takes advantage of auto start/stop technology, which shuts off the engine at stationary idle.

The 2013-MY Ford Fusion
The 2013-MY Ford Fusion

The new Fusion hybrid will make some serious noise in the market, but not on the road: Ford’s all-new hybrid powerplant can go up to 62 mpg on electric only, and is targeted at 47/44 mpg city/hwy.

Ford says the Fusion “Energi” (Ford’s name for its plug-in hybrids or PHEVs) is expected to be the most fuel efficient mid-size car in the world, delivering more than 100 mpg equivalent.

The 2013 Ford Focus Electric is also certified at a 110 mpg equivalent city rating, and with a 240v charging station, the all-electric Focus is supposed to charge in half the time of the competition, according to Ford.

The trend with safety technology is a migration from luxury car to the mass-market sedans. And so Ford offers its “lane keeping assist” option on the Fusion and other models such as the 2013 Explorer. Lane keeping assist can be described as something like your spouse in the passenger seat making sure you stay awake, though in actuality, it’s a digital imaging system that detects lane markings determining if you’re straying from your lane. If so, the system issues a series of progressive alerts and, if needed, it will “nudge” you back into your lane.

I’m looking forward to driving the new Fusion to put the EcoBoost (direct-injection, turbocharged) engines to the test. The new Fusion doesn’t get a six-cylinder engine, but Ford maintains the 2.0L EcoBoost I-4 will perform just as well or better, and kills on fuel economy. In 2011 some 40% of all Ford F-Series had an Ecoboost engine, making it the No. 1 engine choice. That percentage will grow.

Talk about how far we’ve come: The 2006-MY Ford Fusion had a standard four-cylinder, 160 hp engine that delivered 20/28 mpg. Ford’s new 1.6L EcoBoost engine — the fleet leader in Fusion — is expected to achieve 26/37 mpg. Moving up the ladder, Ford’s new 2.0L EcoBoost, offered in the 2013 Taurus, churns out 237 hp and still gets 31 mpg/hwy. With all the talk of electric power, automakers are still wringing more and more efficiency out of the humble internal combustion engine. 

By the way, Ford is looking to increase its average fuel economy by 35% by 2015 from a 2010 baseline. That seems like a tall order, as we’re already upon the 2013 model year, but Ford already has four models that top 40 mpg/hwy. Ford’s new religion when it comes to cars — not just trucks and SUVs — should help get them there.[PAGEBREAK]

The 2013-MY Ford Taurus
The 2013-MY Ford Taurus

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Ford also had a 2013 Taurus SHO on display. Too bad we’re writing about commercial fleet here — though in the new Police Interceptor sedan equipped with the 3.5L EcoBoost, I’m sure it’s fun to catch bad guys in.

The 2013 Escape is all new as well. We regret that Ford didn’t have one on hand to assess the redesign! (The photos look good, anyway.) The new Escape gets the same powertrains as Fusion, and, similar to Fusion, it got longer and wider, with more cargo room. The 2013 Escape offers a fuel economy improvement of 5 mpg over previous comparable engines as well as a hands-free power liftgate option. (Apparently, you wave your foot under the bumper to open it.)

The latest Escape no longer has a hybrid option. For those customers, Ford will lead you to the new Ford C-Max 5-passenger ”multi-activity vehicle,” which will get a hybrid version and become available in the second half of 2012. As another option, the C-Max Energi PHEV can cover 500 miles and deliver better charge sustaining fuel economy than the Chevrolet Volt, Ford says.

There is new energy at the OEM level when it comes to alt-fuel offerings from the factory, and Ford is right in the mix. A few years ago, if fleets wanted to switch to alternative fuels such as CNG (compressed natural gas) or LPG (“propane autogas” as the industry prefers), they had to go to the aftermarket for a conversion. Ford now has CNG and LPG prep packages for its Super Duty and E-Series offerings and Transit Connect.

Ford reiterated its plans with the Transit van and how it will eventually usurp the E-Series. Click here for more information on those plans.

Product one-offs: Ford F-650 will be offered with a 6.8L gas-engine option that delivers 362 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. As well, Ford’s Crew Chief telematics vehicle tracking and driver management system is now available for installation in non-Ford vehicles (thank you!).

Don’t expect a new Ford Ranger or a new compact pickup from Ford for the North American market. At the end of its production run the Ranger may have had an attractive price point, but to develop a new version would be cost prohibitive, Ford says. My advice: Look to Ford’s Transit Connect and new Transit vans to satisfy those old Ranger applications.

What’s up with Lincoln these days? Before the economy implosion, Ford’s luxury brand portfolio included Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo — as well as Lincoln. Ford couldn’t support all those brands, the company says, especially as luxury car sales make up 11% to 13% of the market annually. Coming out of the recession, Ford’s attention was on the core brand, but now Lincoln is getting the attention it deserves.

Ford has reduced and consolidated the Lincoln dealer count and asked them to reinvest in their facilities. Ford released the new Lincoln MKS sedan at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November. At the Detroit Auto Show in January, Ford’s luxury brand unveiled a new, distinct identity with a mid-century modern pavilion that Don Draper of Mad Men would feel at home in with a martini. There, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ — based on the Fusion platform — debuted as a concept. (Incidentally, the MKZ hybrid does surprisingly well in lifecycle cost analyses.) The MKT large luxury crossover gets a stretched version for the limo/livery market. Lincoln Navigator is available, though no updates were announced.

A few notes on Ford’s big picture: The company expects overall sales to reach 13.5 to 14.5 million in 2012. The manufacturer says it is intent on “staying disciplined” when it comes to managing day’s supply and sales to rental fleets.

Of Ford’s fleet sales pie, 40.6% goes to rental, 43.4% to commercial and 16.0% to government. That compares to overall industry sales pie to fleets of 63.7% to rental, 31% to commercial and 8.4% to government.

Ford is communizing its brands as part of its global strategy. By next year, nine global platforms worldwide will equal 85% of Ford’s global sales.

Product refreshes are coming quicker now, and that will continue, even for home-run products that achieve record sales. Today, it’s all about protecting residuals and making cars people want — especially young people.

What a difference a few years makes in the life of an auto manufacturer. Remember 2008? It feels like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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