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Ford’s Fusion hybrid is a real gas-sipper

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Ford has grabbed the fuel-economy crown in the nation’s largest car segment — just in time to see gasoline fall to its lowest price in five years.

Ford said today that its new 2010 Fusion hybrid has been certified by the EPA at 41 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway, with a combined rating of 39 miles per gallon. That beats the hybrid versions of its competitors in the mid-sized sedan segment (at least based on their 2009 EPA ratings): the Toyota Camry (33 city/34 highway); Chevy Malibu (26/34); and the Nissan Altima (35/33).

In fact, based on the competition’s ’09 ratings for combined city and highway driving, the new Fusion hybrid beats every widely sold vehicle in America except the Toyota Prius hybrid (46 mpg combined) and the smaller Honda Civic hybrid (42 mpg combined).

The new Fusion -- which will go on sale in the spring-- also boasts a few nifty technology tweaks. The electric side of the car’s hybrid power train is powered by a smaller nickel-metal hydride battery that produces 20% more power than the one used in Ford’s previous hybrid system. The battery runs cooler than the old battery and can accelerate the car to 47 miles per hour before the gasoline engine kicks in.

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With a suggested list price of about $27,000, however, the Fusion hybrid costs $1,500 more than the ’09 Chevy Malibu hybrid and $1,000 more than a Camry hybrid, based on retail price information from Edmunds.com. The federal hybrid tax credit should eliminate that gap with the Camry, which is no longer eligible for the credit.

A tougher sell may be convincing consumers to pay the $8,000 premium over a basic Fusion (20 MPG city/28 highway) at a time when gas prices are tumbling. The current price in California for a gallon of regular is $1.806, according to AAA. That’s down 60% from its high last summer. And in New York trading today, gasoline futures fell to December 2003 lows.

“Fuel economy will never go out of style,” Ford spokesman John Clinard said. “No matter what the price of gas is, people always want to save money at the pump.”

All those Hummers and Explorers plying area freeways may belie that statement. But there’s no denying that the Fusion hybrid — which is being be built in Mexico — arrives at a propitious time for U.S. automakers, which have been roundly criticized in Washington for failing to match their foreign competitors in the area of fuel economy technology.

-- Martin Zimmerman


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