My first couple days at TTAC weren’t so much a baptismal by fire, but a surprise dunk in the ice bath by the Best & Brightest. My now-infamous post, where I dubbed the unseen-at-the-time 2013 Ford Fusion as a “gamechanger” based on my embargoed preview of the car in Dearborn, became a punchline for the first month of my tenure. But now I get to gloat. Sort of.
Good cars are notoriously competent at flopping in the marketplace. Need I say more than the Pontiac G8? But this time, I really feel that things are different. For the first time ever, I’ve had people who don’t give a lick about cars ask me about “the Ford that looks like an Aston“.
Love him or hate him, Peter DeLorenzo nailed it when he 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.”
For the average consumer, cars have never been safer, more fuel-efficient or feature-packed. Design is the key differentiator in a marketplace where everything gets 40 MPG and comes with a standard backup camera, Bluetooth and heated seats. It would be naive to think that the Fusion will make the Camry, Accord and Altima irrelevant; the mid-size segment is one place where boring, vanilla cars are mandatory, to serve the large segment of the population that many car enthusiasts hold in contempt for wanting nothing more than a beige box to transport them in comfort and isolation.
But what Hyundai, Kia and now Ford have picked up on is that there’s a whole other segment, that can be perfectly embodied by the term “aspirational”. The Fusion is a car that younger buyers will want because it looks like an Aston Martin, and older buyers who want something more exciting than vanilla – but not too much more. The Fusion could be powered by a hamster in a wheel and drive like an oxcart, but its design is strong enough to attract the attention of car enthusiasts and more importantly, people in the market for new cars, who want to make some kind of statement about whatever image they want to project but can’t or won’t shell out for something with a foreign badge. Believe me, there are tons of those consumers out there. And now they have an option besides a used luxury sedan that they won’t have to justify to their peer group.
The Camry, Accord and Altima will likely maintain their grip on the upper echelons of the market. After all, boring sells and this car may be a bit too adventurous for a certain class of buyer. But the Fusion will doubtlessly build on the previous generation’s success, and more importantly, get people talking about the brand, thanks to a mid-size car. Who would have ever thought that would happen just two years ago?