DETROIT - Six months after going on sale, the Ford Fusion, touted as the brand's game-changer in the car business, is stacking up respectable midseason stats.
Ford sold 19,142 Fusions in the first two months of this year. It estimates March sales (to be reported today, April 3) will top 10,000.
U.S. dealers are selling the cars in less than a month on average, according to J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network. The average transaction price is strong but moderating. Ford says PIN also shows the Fusion conquesting non-Ford Motor buyers at a rate of 38.5 percent, beyond its initial 25 percent target.
"It's not in the category of just a knockout success," says Tom Libby, a J.D. Power analyst. "Its (transaction) price is declining. But it's perfectly all right."
Incentive spending averaged $1,653 in February, just above the segment average, according to PIN. Ford says Fusion retail sales are increasing by 15 percent each month.
"We were losing 50,000 Taurus, Focus and Mustang customers on average every year to competitor mid-sized vehicles," says Dan Geist, Fusion marketing manager. "With Fusion, we're helping to retain those people in our showroom."
Older nameplates sag
Meanwhile, the Ford brand's overall car sales have increased. Ford sold 128,611 cars in the first two months of this year, up 14.8 percent from a year ago.
A big chunk of that increase came from higher fleet sales in January and February. And though the Fusion generally is hitting its sales targets, other nameplates, such as the Focus, have faltered, says George Pipas, Ford sales analyst.
"It's the decay in the older vehicles," Pipas says. "If our carryover product would have done better, it would be obvious to everybody that the (Fusion and its sister vehicles) are doing so well."
High fleet sales
One twist to the Fusion launch has been more fleet sales than anticipated. In January 2005, Steve Lyons, then Ford Division president, said the Fusion would be withheld from daily rental fleets during its first six months. Lyons retired last month.
But Ford started selling the Fusion and its sister Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr into fleets right away. Total fleet accounts for about 16 percent of sales for the trio. Less than 10 percent of total sales have been daily rental, Ford says.
Many dealers say the Fusion is off to a good start. Making the Fusion part of the Ford brand's focus-vehicle strategy, in which it concentrates advertising on key vehicles, is increasing consumer interest and showroom traffic, says Tom Addis, chairman of the Ford national dealer council and dealer principal of Lake City Ford in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
But several dealers have complained to Ford that the Fusion "Life in Drive" TV commercials don't tell consumers enough about content and pricing.
"The advertising has missed the mark at this point," says Mike Mellow, dealer principal at Placerville Ford in Placerville, Calif. Mellow says he has sold five Fusions at retail so far and has about 18 in stock. In his truck-dominated market about 40 miles east of Sacramento, the Fusion "is not doing anything for me."
Geist, the Fusion marketing manager, says the initial campaign was designed to build excitement for the new nameplate. He says Ford will introduce feature-oriented advertising during the next several months.
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]