Future Curbside Classic: 2013-20XX Ford Fusion – Is This Ford’s Last Midsize?

(first posted 1/30/2018)       The sedans are strong in my family. My father has one. I have one. My sister has one. You probably know someone who owns one too. In five to ten years though, sedan availability is bound to decrease substantially. One of the first casualties of shifting consumer demand may in fact be one of the segment’s top sellers: the Ford Fusion. While we don’t know the fate of Ford’s current midsize just yet, it’s worth exploring the situation the company faces in the near future and beyond.

Launched in mid-2012 for the 2013 model year, the Fusion debuted to significant critical praise for its superlative driving dynamics and its paradigm-shifting design. A number of auto blogs lampooned the sedan for its emulation of the Aston Martin aesthetic, but six years later we know how difficult it is to confuse the Ford with anything from the British automaker.  What the automotive armchair quarterbacks ultimately failed to remember was the legacy of the Taurus and how its heritage influenced the new Fusion. Both cars succeeded by distilling the essence of European sedans into a formula palpable to Americans. Additionally, the 2013 Fusion proved the company could develop a competent and modern intermediate world car without the input of Volvo or Mazda.

Unlike its predecessor, the 2013 Fusion did not offer an optional V6 engine. Its replacement was the 2.0 EcoBoost four cylinder, which matched the 3.0 Duratec’s 240 horsepower rating while offering almost fifty additional pounds of torque. The 1.6 liter EcoBoost slotted under its larger displacement sibling as a mid-tier option, and both were also available on the redesigned 2013 Escape, which arrived at Ford dealerships around the same time as the Fusion. The new engines were the first additions to the EcoBoost family after the 3.5 twin-turbo V6, which originally debuted in 2009 with the launch of the Lincoln MKS.

Ford replaced the 1.6 unit with the 1.5 in 2014 and re-introduced a V6 into the Fusion lineup with the 2017 refresh, although that engine is also a member of the EcoBoost family. The Sport model comes standard with the 2.7 liter “Nano” V6, which is rated at 325 horsepower and 380 Ib ft torque.

It’s pretty clear Ford wants the Fusion to be a sort of Swiss Army Knife for all regions and at all the price points in the midsize segment. For the American market, the Fusion has twelve distinct models and six different powertrain options. All wheel drive is available, making the Fusion just one of two cars in the segment that can send power to all four wheels.

As for customization, the only other vehicle in the Ford lineup with more standalone options is the F-150. Want a basic SE with a moonroof and nothing else? No problem. How about an SE with the 2.0 EcoBoost and Cold Weather Package? Sure, why not?

Did you go to the Honda dealer, inquire about an Accord LX with leather, and get laughed out of the showroom? I’ve got good news: the Fusion SE’s Luxury Package does not require you to step up to the highest trim level.

Or perhaps you’ve decided that a fully loaded Fusion is the only car for you, but the higher spec trim level shares its name with the pit bull that mauled your kitten to death back in 1991. Ford can accommodate you! No need to have traumatizing “Titanium” badges plastered all over your car. Check every major option box for an SE and you’ll exceed the price of a base Titanium by about $5,000!

The Fusion’s customization options could probably be cut down a bit. If Fusion sales were still over 300,000 units annually, the cost to offer all those different builds wouldn’t really be a problem. But global demand is shifting to crossovers. The Fusion didn’t fail Ford. The market did.

Those of you who follow the latest developments out of Detroit know that suppliers recently informed the press of a letter sent to them by Ford which basically states that the company cancelled a redesign for the Fusion. They’ve made public their plans to build something else at the Mexican plant that currently builds the sedan while also saying that any future Fusion/Mondeo made in China will not be coming to America. All signs point to Ford withdrawing from the midsize segment. But is that actually going to happen? And is it worth it for Ford to stay in the game that is currently dominated by the Camry, Accord, and Altima?

Any speculation related to development costs for any vehicle currently in production is at best an educated guess since that type of information is basically classified. But the future of the Fusion and other sedans depends on how much it costs to builds them, so let’s play a bit of a numbers game. In her book about the third generation Taurus, Mary Walton cites $3 billion as the amount Ford shelled out to develop the car. Perhaps advances in computer aided design enabled Ford to develop the 2013 Fusion for the same amount of money. How much coin does Ford make on every Fusion sold? For our purposes let’s pick $700. The total number of Fusions sold from 2013-2017 is about 1,375,000. Multiply those two numbers and you get 962,500,000. Did Ford make $962 million from the Fusion in five years? If so, the sedan has recouped just under a third of its development budget. Not good numbers. Then again, Ford uses the CD4 platform on multiple vehicles, including several Lincoln models. That helps recoup the investment, but the question is, how much?

If Ford truly loses money on every Fusion sold then obviously it needs to be cancelled. I find it hard to believe this is actually the case. And I’m also not sure abandoning the midsize segment, even if it is in decline, is a good idea. Ford executives probably still lament the absence of a Ranger in the Ford lineup after the previous generation bowed out right before the midsize pickup segment took off. It would be disappointing for Ford to walk away from the segment it revolutionized in 1986.

YearFord Fusion Sales (US)Ford Edge Sales (US)Ford Explorer Sales (US)Ford Escape Sales (US)

But sales have dropped off precipitously. Ford’s crossover lineup hasn’t absorbed the loss of Fusions sales, but the F-150 did increase sales by 76,000 in 2017. And one sedan sale does not equal one crossover sold. The MSRP on a Fusion S is $22,120 while a base Edge clocks in at $29,220. Do you really think it costs Ford an extra $7100 to build an Edge?

2018 Fusion2018 Edge2018 Escape2018 Explorer
Front Headroom39.240.239.941.4
Rear Headroom37.840.33940.6
Front Shoulder Room57.860.355.961.5
Rear Shoulder Room56.960.555.261
Front Hip Room5555.954.557.3
Rear Hip Room54.457.552.456.8
Front Leg Room44.342.643.142.9
Rear Leg Room38.340.637.339.5
Passenger Volume (cu. ft.)102.8113.998.7151.5
Trunk Volume (cu. ft.) / Cargo Volume Behind Second Row1639.23443.9

Here’s a different set of numbers. The Edge, closest relative to the Fusion, beats the sedan in every dimension. And take a look at the Escape, which nearly matches the Fusion, except for the second row, but not by a huge margin. Since the prices of the Fusion and Escape match pretty evenly, its likely they’re both being cross shopped. And Ford obviously isn’t the only automaker in America.

Ford has competition from its own lineup, other midsize sedans, rival compact crossovers, and another segment not discussed thus far: compact cars. The current generation of small crossovers achieved refinement parity with midsize sedans years ago. Compact cars are bound to grow in size and become more refined themselves if they haven’t already. Have you seen the upcoming Forte? Intermediate cars are being squeezed from all angles.

If Ford wants to keep playing the midsize game, they’re either going to have to take the Fusion upmarket or downmarket. Or substantially cut costs. There is precedent. The second generation Focus sold only in America from 2008-2011 reflected Ford’s desire to keep costs down by using the same platform as its predecessor. If you go back and read old reviews of that particular Focus, you’ll find that critics generally disliked the styling and found the interior to be lacking quality materials, but praised its driving dynamics and tech offerings.

Ford still has a competitive vehicle in the Fusion. The Accord and Camry may be newer, but all the Ford really needs is a new transmission and some interior upgrades to match them. And perhaps some more standard equipment too. As Paul has pointed out numerous times, the Camry spent fifteen years on the same platform. With the right updates, the Fusion can too.

If the Fusion does end up on the chopping block, it will at least have gone out on a high note. It entered the automotive world in similar fashion. Ford built a proper successor to the Taurus by keeping its mission of bringing European driving dynamics and styling to Americans intact. And in some ways it even aped the bull, by being equally accepted across the pond.

C: When are you going to realize you don’t matter anymore?

M: Maybe not. But something has to.

This brief exchange between smarmy tech bro C and Ralph Fiennes’ M in Spectre really highlights where the Fusion finds itself in the automotive world of 2018. Even if it doesn’t make sense to cancel the sedan, Ford will most likely carry out its mission in an upcoming vehicle. Automakers may currently be hell bent on partially burying the past and the present. And there may be justification in mourning what came before. But enthusiasts of all stripes would be wise not to fall into a complete state of despair, because the future looks mighty interesting.