September 19, 2012
Why the Fusion defines the new Ford.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 9/18, 1:00 p.m.) Detroit. There are product launches in this business and then there are new product introductions that qualify as defining moments for a car company. Although we’ve long since past the point where fall new car introductions were the talk of small towns across America (and it’s a shame that era has passed), there’s no question that the introduction of the new Ford Fusion definitely qualifies as one of those defining moments.
The new Fusion is the culmination of everything that has gone into transforming Ford under the gifted leadership of Alan Mulally, and it’s exactly what Bill Ford Jr. had in mind when he began courting the Boeing leader to come to Dearborn and jump-start his family’s car company.
Despite everything you’ve read of late about Ford’s internal hand-wringing over Alan Mulally’s successor – Mark Fields – I can assure you that the company’s focus has never wavered from the job at hand, which, as Mulally has repeatedly defined it, means designing, engineering and building the best vehicles they can possibly muster. Cars and trucks that are both efficient and fun to drive.
That the Fusion represents much more than a new car to Ford may not be obvious to the casual observer, but believe me this car is a rolling testament to the transformation that has gone on under Mulally’s watch. That this car company bears no resemblance to the company that was on the ropes when Mulally arrived in Dearborn six years ago may be apparent only to insiders immersed in this business, but to the people in Dearborn the difference is beyond remarkable.
Simply having everyone on the same page and pulling together in the same direction is an achievement unto itself for Mulally, but the transformation is much deeper than that. The people of Ford care about their company and the products it puts on the street more so than at any other time in the company’s history, and it shows in the way they go about everything they do.
Is it all roses and champagne in Dearborn? No, not by any stretch. There are still festering fiefdoms within Ford that Mulally has yet to crack, and there are still pockets of old-guard resistance that haven’t been reached by the One Ford mantra that has become the hallmark of Mulally’s leadership. But the negative factions that occupy the “vast gray middle” and continue to plague other car companies are muted at Ford. Why? Because the leadership at Ford is the best in the business, free of the acrimony and hostility that seem to consume its crosstown rivals, and because there is just too much focus on the product to get derailed by the bit players and small-timers who weave their web of negativity at other companies.
That the Fusion represents Ford’s focus on everything to do with the product is evident just by looking at it. As I’ve often said, the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator going forward in this business will be design, and the Fusion makes a definitive statement and offers a real design point of view, something lacking from Ford and other car companies (Honda and Toyota just to name two) in the past, especially when it comes to the mainstream market in this country.
(I’m reminded of GM’s heyday when the great automotive designer Bill Mitchell had an uncanny knack for bringing tailored, concept car looks to the mainstream market. To me the Fusion has the same kind of impact and presence on the road that Mitchell’s signature vehicles did.)
And Ford’s willingness to push the boundaries of predictability in the mid-size market may be the most telling aspect of the new Fusion. The car has “premium” written all over it; from the way it looks to the way it drives, and with an array of efficient powertrains that suit a wide range of needs and tastes the Fusion will be the most competitive car in the mainstream American market in decades.
This speaks to the quiet confidence of the Ford Motor Company, something that was anathema just a half a decade ago. Some would say that Ford’s aggressive new product lineup is risky and walks the edge of acceptability in the market, but those are the same hand-wringers who wouldn’t hesitate to say that American car companies are staid, predictable and uncompetitive by default.
I could say that succeeding in this business now means taking risks, but in the old days that meant launching cars into the U.S. market that were hit or miss, with the resulting fallout from a “miss” being devastating to a car company and the executives responsible.
Today it’s much different. In order for a car company to be successful it must be competitive, and in order to be competitive that company must have a vision of what it wants to be and where it wants to go. And then it not only has to have the cojones to adhere to that vision, it has to have a Plan to execute to that vision, which requires courage and a relentless, calculated focus.
That’s where Ford is right now. It has the vision – One Ford – as laid out by Alan Mulally, and the company is executing to The Plan with an unwavering commitment and focus. And it’s gratifying to see that Ford’s Plan completely revolves around the idea of putting the best vehicles on the road that they can possibly muster, in every respect.
Not compromises or “good enough” vehicles mind you, but the best in design, engineering, fuel efficiency and that all-important ingredient of being fun to drive to top it all off.
In the past that would constitute nothing more than lip service from a domestic automaker, with the resulting vehicles coming in considerably less than that.
But this is a different time and a new era and it’s why the new Ford Fusion not only defines the new Ford, it reimagines the concept of a what a mainstream American automobile can be.
That’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
(All photos courtesy of Ford)
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes:
Subscribe via RSS: