Ford shines as Auto Show opens in Detroit

The 2013 Ford Fusion is introduced during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Jan. 9, 2012.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Hype is never in short supply at auto shows, but in Detroit this week, there's an ingredient that's been missing in recent years -- genuine optimism. Automakers have plenty to crow about: U.S. sales are the highest since 2008, and they're expected to keep growing. Buyers are being lured by cheap loans and an improving economy.

The timing is opportune as automakers prepare to unveil more than 40 new cars and trucks this month at the industry's annual trade show in the Motor City. While there will be a few wild concept cars, like a tiny pickup from Smart, there will also be many models that will go on sale this year.

One of the domestic highlights is Ford's redesigned 2013 Fusion, unveiled as the show opened Monday. The Fusion will add a plug-in hybrid version and feature technology previously available only on luxury models.

The new Fusion will come with a choice of power plants, each of which the company says will deliver better gas mileage than competing mid-size sedans of similar engine type. The turbocharged, 1.6-liter gasoline "Ecoboost" engine will get expected ratings of 26 MPG in city driving, 37 on the highway.

The revamped Fusion Hybrid ratings should be 47 MPG in city driving, 44 on the highway, topping the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata hybrids. The new lithium-ion batteries will allow the Fusion to continue under solely electric power to 62 mph before the gas engine kicks in instead of the previous cutoff at 47 mph.

The all-new model will be the oddly-spelled Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid. With a power plant similar to the regular hybrid, its batteries can additionally be recharged by plugging in the vehicle. Ford expects to get a rating of 100 MPGe -the mileage per gallon equivalent used by the Environmental Protection Agency for plug-in cars. That will better the Chevrolet Volt and the forthcoming Toyota Prius plug-in model, Ford says.

Ford also has loaded the 2013 Fusion with new technology features, some of which were available previously only on luxury models. Here's a closer look at some of that new technology:

-- Drowsy-driver warning. Called Lane Keeping by Ford, this system sends the driver a warning by vibrating the steering wheel if the car is drifting out of its proper lane. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been offering this safety feature for some time.

-- Crash-avoiding cruise control. So-called adaptive cruise control uses a camera to detect when the Fusion is moving too swiftly toward slower traffic ahead, possibly leading to a crash. The system starts applying the brakes to slow the car down. This too has been available chiefly in luxury models.

-- Stop-go system. To boost mileage, the gasoline engines will shut off entirely at stop lights or other full stops. Previously this technology has been seen mostly on hybrid models.

On the outside, the new Fusion has a sleeker profile than the previous version. Ford has not announced Fusion prices yet, but the previous generation starts at about $21,000.


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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.