DETROIT -- The arrival of the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan marks a new era of budget-minded product development at Ford Motor Co.
The Fusion, which debuted Sunday, Jan. 9, at the Detroit auto show, is the first of as many as 10 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles being derived from a modified Mazda6 platform.
The Fusion and two sister sedans, the Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr, go on sale this fall.
Spinning several vehicles from one platform was the only way Ford could refill its product pipeline after its financial crisis.
The automaker has said it is investing about $1 billion into the Mazda6-derived family of vehicles. By contrast, automakers typically spend $1 billion on a single new-car program.
Despite the slimmed program costs, Ford product planners are counting on the Fusion to revive the brand's lackluster North American car business.
"Everything flows forward now," said Phil Martens, Ford group vice president of product creation.
"We rebuilt the business model" with the Fusion program, Martens said.
Despite shared components and development costs, Ford engineers tweaked the Mazda6 foundation.
The Fusion is 30 millimeters wider and 55 millimeters longer than the Mazda6, with the extra length in the rear seat. Engineers also pumped up the brakes, stiffened the structure and tuned the Fusion for softer ride and handling, chief engineer Brian Vought said.
Fusion volume is expected to reach as much as 160,000 annually, said Ben Poore, Ford car marketing manager.
The 2006 Ford Fusion sedan ushers in a new level of platform sharing.
Other Ford sources suggest that volume could eventually approach 200,000.
The vehicle's main competitors are the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu and Nissan Altima.
Ford isn't giving a price for the Fusion, but it is expected to come in around $18,000.
The car is available with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.0-liter V-6. Transmissions include a five-speed automatic, five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. A 3.5-liter V-6 under development at Ford also could find its way into the Fusion.
An all-wheel-drive option will be added after the launch, likely in the second year. A gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain is coming in 2007.
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