Prowling Detroit Late At Night In A Ford Fusion Hybrid

By Bill Moore

Posted: 24 Oct 2009

So far only one American automaker has done it right when it comes to taking on Toyota and Honda's dominance in the hybrid-electric car arena. That company is Ford Motor Company. It was the first to offer a hybrid sport utility vehicle: the Escape Hybrid, followed by the Mercury Mariner Hybrid. And it's the first to offer a hybrid family sedan: the Fusion and Milan Hybrid; and briefly last Tuesday night, I got to take one for a spin around downtown Detroit.

I've been asking my contacts at Ford to loan me a Fusion Hybrid for months now so I could evaluate it and let EV World readers get my perspective on the car, though to be honest, enough other very competent automotive journalists have extolled the praises of the car to the point that my voice would be just another tenor in that Hallelujah Chorus. Certainly car buyers have responded well, propelling Ford into the ranks of a serious competitor to both Honda and Toyota. Writes the Independent in England...

Thanks to the popularity of the Ford Escape and Ford Fusion hybrids, the Detroit automaker's hybrid sales are up 73 percent from last year while Honda's have grown only 8 percent.

Ford itself noted in an October 15, 2009 press release that "through September, Ford has sold 26,016 hybrid vehicles," with many of those being like the Fusion Hybrid in which the MotorCity Casino valet drove up in as I was talking on my cellphone to my wife back in Nebraska.

The 2010 model Ford arranged for me to drive while I was in Detroit for The Business of Plugging In Conference was virgin white and had about 6,400 miles on it. My original intention was to take a couple hours Wednesday morning, when I thought the conference didn't restart until around 10AM, to drive it on both city streets and on the freeway. But it turned out that the 2 hour hole I thought was in the schedule wasn't. The only time I'd have to drive the car was after the Tuesday night gala dinner at the Detroit Institute of Art, which wrapped up at 9 PM.

It was sometime around 9:30 that I got into the car and drove out of the casino parking garage, bound for I didn't know where. The previous day, I had volunteered to drive my fellow journalists over the GM's Renaissance Center headquarters to tour the OnStar command center and newly opened EV Lab. Then that night, I got tasked with driving the same Fuel Cell Equinox to dinner at Roasts, a nice restaurant in the heart of downtown Detroit.

So, with sort of a sense of where I was, I headed back towards the center of the sadly crumbling city where abandoned buildings abound. I briefly toyed with the notion of jumping onto Interstate 75, but when I saw the spaghetti bowl intersection that I would have to negotiate both going and coming, I quickly abandoned the idea. I'd stay right on Grand River heading southeast.

At 10 PM, the streets downtown are largely deserted, so after turning onto Grand River, I punched the accelerator and the Fusion leapt into life with acceptable acceleration. Not wanting to be ticketed, I promptly dropped back to the speed limit and crossed I -75, only having the vaguest notion where I was, despite the brightly glowing GPS map to my right.

Eventually, I wound my way to Grand Circus Park and then to Michigan Avenue, where I turned west. As I crossed the John C. Lodge Freeway, I spotted the neon-lite Casino in the distance off to my right. While I really wasn't sure where I was, I figured that all I had to do was work my way towards the distance hotel. The GPS told me that Trumball Street was just ahead and I remembered from the day before this street ran next to the casino, which is where the conference was being held.

I turned right at the next intersection, not realizing that I was passing famed Tiger Stadium. It was also about this point that I glanced at the Fusion's driver information screen and saw that leaves had proliferated all over the display. Apparently, I was getting really good fuel economy puttering around the heart of the city. Ford's claim that in city driving it gets 8 miles per gallon better fuel economy than Toyota's Camry would appear substantiated. Having driven hybrids since 2000, however, I have to say that I found the leaf display just a bit distracting. I think it's because I was driving in a strange, unfamiliar city in the middle of the night where I was only vaguely aware of where I was and concerned about getting the loaner car safely back to the casino. If I'd had time, say, to drive it over to Ann Arbor and back, I am sure I would have found the game-like display challenging and beneficial.

I pulled back into the valet parking at MotorCity and picked up the ticket I would leave at the hotel desk for Ford so they could collect their car.

What do I think of it? Twenty minutes really isn't long enough to form a knowledgeable opinion other than it works as advertised and delivers as promised. I find the exterior styling a bit humdrum, but the interior seems nicely appointed and comfortable and that's what really matters when all is said and done.

Mainly, I am delighted that an American carmaker has come up with a competitive vehicle to the heretofore Japanese monopoly and I am really looking forward to seeing what Ford comes up with for a plug-in hybrid in 2012. Hopefully before then, I'll have found a way to put a bit more time in the driver's seat of what is shaping up to be a serious contender in the hybrid car market.

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