The Ford Fusion hybrid will be the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan on the market when it arrives this spring, clocking in at 41 miles per gallon, according to data given to Ford Motor by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That will make it the second-most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road, according to a ranking published on the EPA's website, behind the smaller Toyota Prius and ahead of the smaller Honda Civic hybrid.
It's a huge marketing gain for Ford as it attempts to green up its image and improve fuel efficiency across the board. The Fusion hybrid will cost about $27,000 vs. roughly $24,000 for the conventional Fusion model.
"Our overall strategy is to ensure that with every new vehicle we introduce, we're either the best or among the best in fuel economy," says Derrick Kuzak, vice president of global product development for Ford. "Clearly fuel economy ... is at the top of the list of customer wants."
Even with gas prices hitting an average of $1.66 a gallon, down from the high of $4.11 earlier this summer, fuel economy continues to be a big concern for consumers, says Stephen Berkov, executive director of client strategy at consumer website Edmunds.com. That's because few are convinced low gas prices are here to stay, he says.
"Consumers are completely reconsidering everything about buying a car, in terms of what attributes they're looking for," Berkov says. "Now, the No. 1 factor would be fuel efficiency -- that's a paradigm shift. Automotive marketing has always been about performance, and now it's about fuel efficiency."
The Fusion will get 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. Hybrids tend to be more efficient in city driving because the electric motors kick in at low speeds.
For one of the U.S. carmakers to have a vehicle that tops its segment in fuel efficiency is a huge marketing coup, Berkov says. The automakers have taken a beating in the public eye this fall as they pleaded their case for a bailout in front of Congress, with many politicians chiding them for not producing green enough cars. Having cars that get class-leading mileage, like the Fusion hybrid, can change those perceptions, Berkov says.
Praveen Cherian, engineering team leader for the Ford Fusion, says the automaker was able to get Fusion's mileage to over 40 miles per gallon by taking a lot of little steps.
One of the biggest fuel savers is the air conditioners. On the Ford Escape hybrid, the air conditioner is powered by the gas engine, so once it's on, fuel savings are minimal. But in the Fusion, the air conditioner is electric-powered.
The car's battery is also 50 pounds lighter than the Escape hybrid's battery, and there are many small tweaks that improve its aerodynamics.