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Ford to Pull Back Curtain on New Hybrid in ’09

ford-fusion-hybrid-09.jpgIn what may be a huge marketing coup for a US auto manufacturer, Ford will unveil a hybrid that claims to be the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan on the market and the second-most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road, USA Today reports.

The Ford Fusion will get 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The Toyota Prius, by comparison, gets around 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. (Hybrids are more efficient at lower speeds because that’s when the electric motors kick in.)

To get the higher levels of fuel efficiency, Ford took a lot of “little steps,” like changing the air conditioner from gas- to electric-powered, lightening the battery load, and improving its aerodynamics.

When put on the market this spring it will be the second-most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road, behind Toyota’s best-selling Prius and just above the smaller Honda Civic hybrid, according to the EPA’s ranking.

The Fusion hybrid will cost about $3,000 more than the conventional model, starting at around $27,000. It is more expensive than the basic Prius model, which now goes for about $22,000 and the Civic at less than $24,000 – a price that will be shifted in 2009 to be lower than the Prius, a Honda exec said in August.

Though the cost savings may be difficult to see now that gas prices are so low – averaging $1.66 a gallon, down from the high of $4.11 earlier this summer – fuel economy is still the No. 1 concern for consumers, as few are convinced that low gas prices are here to stay.

“Automotive marketing has always been about performance, and now it’s about fuel efficiency,” said Derrick Kuzak, vice president of global product development for Ford.

Many politicans have criticized US carmakers for not producing cars that are green enough to compete with foreign brands, especially during the debate about the US car bailout. The Fusion hybrid may help to change those perceptions, said Stephen Berkov of Edmunds.com.

In May, Nissan announced plans to start selling an all-electric car in the US and Japan by 2010.

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