DETROIT -- Read between the lines of last week's news about the Ford Fusion, and it becomes tough to see a post-2020 future for the car in the U.S.
It won't be made in Mexico anymore, Ford has told suppliers, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions. Sources say production of the Fusion's European counterpart, the Mondeo, also will end in Valencia, Spain.
And the automaker insisted, on the record, that it won't import the Fusion to the U.S. from China.
Assuming Ford isn't lying to its suppliers or the media to avoid a political backlash, that means production of the North American Fusion would have to move to a different country or end.
Ford says it hasn't made a final decision, but CEO Jim Hackett last week gave the strongest hint yet that the Fusion will go the way of the Freestyle and Fairmont.
How do I know? He literally said, "I'm giving you a hint," when asked whether or not there's need for the Fusion in Ford's future.
Automakers have traditionally built sedans such as the Fusion, Hackett said, to offer a more budget-friendly option to gas-guzzling trucks and utilities. But thanks to EcoBoost engines, 10-speed transmissions and other technologies, Ford and others are "starting to crack that code" and close the fuel-economy gap between cars and light trucks.
"The reasons for the balance in history had more to do with fuel than customer preference," Hackett said. "And so, if you can get rid of the difference there because of fuel, you start to relieve the pressure of what kind of portfolio you have to have."
Describing the Fusion as a vehicle Ford has been forced to offer isn't the type of ringing endorsement you'd want on a dealership billboard.
But Hackett's right.
Whatever customer-preference advantage the sedan used to hold is virtually gone. Although it's still cheaper than the Escape or Edge crossover, longer loan terms have made the difference in many buyers' monthly payments hardly noticeable.
This year through November, Fusion sales have slumped 22 percent, on pace for the nameplate's third consecutive annual decline. The Fusion is a second-tier player in a segment that the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord will likely continue to dominate.
To its credit, Fusion has been Ford's autonomous test vehicle for years, but last month, as if to add insult to injury, Ford executives said the self-driving vehicle Ford produces in 2021 won't be a Fusion because it doesn't meet the company's package-delivery or passenger-ferrying needs. (Perhaps another hint that the Fusion won't be around in 2021?)
Now Hackett says one of its only remaining advantages -- better fuel economy -- is slipping away, too.
A lot can change before 2020, when Ford would need to introduce the next-generation midsize sedan or a replacement for it.
But when you add up the hints, it's tough to see how the Fusion is anything but a car that's no longer needed.