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2013 Ford Fusion Family - Customer Choice, Telematics, Lithium And Rare Earth Leadership

|Includes: Ford Motor Company (F), NUAN

This city traffic is heavy and the parking space is tight. Like Luke Skywalker, I listen to "The Force" and I let go of the steering wheel. This 2013 Ford (NYSE:F) Fusion Hybrid then parks itself. With Active Park Assist it backs into the city parking space, spinning the steering wheel as it makes a perfect parallel park and while I sit hands-free. I watch on the 8-inch display as the rear camera captures the action. I do have to remember to work the brakes. If I get mesmerized with the automatic parking and forget to brake, the car will hit the car behind it.

This new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is impressive to drive. It delivers 47 miles per gallon (NYSE:MPG) not only on the highway, but also on city streets. This best-in-class MPG is the result of a new drive system, improved internal software, and a new Ford lithium-ion battery pack. This Fusion Hybrid assists me in a number of ways from parking to safety. When I touch the voice button, the conversation between car and me is natural thanks to Nuance (NASDAQ:NUAN) technology. For example, I touch the voice button on the steering wheel and say "navigation destination California." The car replies, I then say "333 Battery Street San Francisco." I'm understood the first time, with no training. The destination correctly displays on the navigation map and I hear turn-by-turn directions while I drive. I don't listen to endless menus; I don't touch the screen. No "I'm sorry, I did not understand you."

The new 2013 Ford Fusion Family is loaded with telematics and safety features to make life easier for us in tight spots and intense traffic. The following options are available in Ford's Driver Assist Technology.

  • Active Park Assist
  • Lane-Keeping Aid
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Blind Spot Indicator
  • Rear Camera
  • Collision Alert
  • Driver Alert
New Fusion Family Shows That Ford Listens to Its Customers

In addition to test-driving several Fusion models, I join Ford's Chief Technical Officer Paul Mascarenas and key members of Ford's research, technology, and engineering teams such as Chuck Gray, Chief Engineer, Electrification, and Jim Buczkowski, Henry Ford Technical Fellow. Ford is advancing in several fronts:

  • Customer Choice - offering vehicles with drive systems from gasoline engine only to electric.
  • Driver Assistance - proving the driver with telematics and safety assistance to improve navigation, suddenly stopped traffic, lane drifting, you name it.
  • Intelligent mobility - with help from cloud services, you can start planning your trip and selecting your music on your iPad, have all that move with you into the Fusion, and then take that with you on your Droid when you arrive at the next stop.
  • Fuel economy - new generation drive systems that allow drivers to go further on a tank of gas and/or electric-charge instead of petroleum fueling.

The 2013 Ford Fusion is available in five drive systems to meet customer's mileage, cost, and driving preferences:

  • EcoBoost 1.6L Automatic Transmission
  • EcoBoost 1.6L Manual Transmission
  • All-Wheel Drive EcoBoost 2.0L
  • Hybrid
  • Energi Plug-in Hybrid

The new Ford Fusion gives car owners unprecedented choice in powertrains and fuel economy. The Ford Fusion can be offered with an efficient EcoBoost engine or as a hybrid with better mileage than any midsized sedan or as a plug-in hybrid that allows many trips to use zero gasoline.

More Lithium Batteries, Less Rare Earths

There is concern that as hybrid and electric cars make us less dependent on oil from unstable and hostile countries, we become more dependent on rare earth elements from China. Among the rare earth metals used in nickel-metal-hydride batteries are neodymium, cerium, lanthanum and praseodymium, none of which are used in the new lithium-ion batteries which are standard on all new Ford hybrid and electric cars.

Additionally, Ford has reduced its use of dysprosium by approximately 50 percent in magnets employed in the Ford electric motors. Dysprosium is the most expensive rare earth metal used in Ford vehicles. This reduction is the result of a new diffusion process that is used in the magnet manufacturing process.

Ford will only use lithium batteries in all Ford hybrids starting in calendar year 2012 when it announces the new Focus using the Ford global C platform. Ford is currently second only to Toyota in global hybrid sales. Ford may be the first car maker to sell 100,000 cars annually that includes lithium batteries. When I lasted interviewed Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, she said that Ford has a 2020 goal of 10 to 25 percent of its vehicle sales including lithium batteries. Her best guess is that 70% would be hybrids, 20 to 25% plug-in hybrids, and 5 to 10% battery-electric. Everything from technology innovation to oil prices will affect the future mix.

Disclosure: I am long NUAN.