2010 Ford Fusion HybridEnlarge Photo
With record unemployment numbers and an active global recession, it's not news that vehicle sales have been lousy, falling by more than one-third from the record levels of a few years ago.
But at least one maker's green cars are doing better than ever: Ford's U.S. sales of its hybrid-electric vehicles are up by 73 percent, based on the successful launch of its 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan and its counterpart, the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid.
Through the first nine months of 2009, Ford sold 26,016 hybrid vehicles, according to figures from Autodata Inc.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY - average 37.2 MPGEnlarge Photo
New York City's hybrid taxis, such as this Ford Escape hybrid, could be sabotaged by safety concernsEnlarge Photo
2010 Ford Escape HybridEnlarge Photo
2009 Ford Escape HybridEnlarge Photo
All-important "conquest" buyers
Happily for Ford, six out of every 10 Fusion Hybrid buyers isn't a current Ford owner, meaning Ford is capturing the highly-valued "conquest" buyers. Equally impressive, more than half of the new-to-Ford buyers trade in non-U.S. brands, mostly Toyota and Honda.
With EPA city mileage rated at 41 miles per gallon (and 36 mpg highway), the 2010 Fusion Hybrid is the most fuel efficient midsize sedan on the market. As Ford routinely points out, that's better than the 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid by 8 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway.
Battery-only up to 47 mph
The pair of hybrid sedans, which share platform architecture and drivetrain bits and pieces with the 2009 Mazda6, went on sale this spring. Each uses a 156-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor.
Unlike any other hybrid on the market, the Fusion Hybrid can operate in electric-only mode at speeds up to 47 miles per hour. That's 50 percent higher than the maximum speed at which Toyota or Nissan hybrids have to switch on their gasoline engines.
A display on the dash can be configured to display a vine that sprouts leaves when the driver is operating the system at its most efficient; when consumption increases, the leaves disappear.
Ford is now in its sixth full year of selling hybrid crossovers, under a trio of make-model pairs: 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, 2010 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, and even the rare-as-hens'-teeth 2010 Mazda Tribute Hybrid.
Those vehicles have been continuously updated, getting a larger 2.5-liter engine and more efficient hybrid gear a couple of years ago and, for 2010, all-electric air conditioning that cools the cabin while the engine stays off. The front-wheel-drive 2010 Escape Hybrid is rated at 34 mpg city / 30 mpg highway, making the highest-mileage SUV on the market.
Fleet use: From taxis to the Army
Escape Hybrids are purchased both by private buyers (including your editor's mother in upstate New York) and fleets in both the private and government sectors. They're increasingly used as taxi cabs as well, with more than 15,000 doing hack duty in cities like San Francisco and New York.
In 2009, federal agencies have purchased more than 3,000 hybrids from Ford, more than any other automotive brand. The U.S. Army was the single largest purchaser among the government fleets, acquiring 400 Fusion hybrids.
Unlike Toyota, which has sold roughly two-thirds of the world's 2 million hybrid vehicles, Ford's hybrid sales didn't grow much before the launch of its second hybrid line.