Last week when we were in Alexandria, Virginia for the Ford Fusion Hybrid “1000 Miles On A Tank” event, we had the opportunity to sit down with two people who were very important to the event.
First was Sherif Marakby. Sherif is the Chief Engineer for Global Core Hybrid and Propulsion System Engineering for Ford. He not only quarterbacks much of the development for the Ford hybrid systems, he also drove over 10 hours as part of the team in the event. Sherif stated that there were many reasons for not only doing the event, but doing it in the shadow of the nations capital. Ford were out to make a statement that (a) they ARE a different kind of car company and (b) that CAN compete with the worlds best on the world stage.
Ford took a car off the dealership floor and with no other special prep than inflating the tires a bit higher than than normal and removing all the stuff from the trunk, they went for it. There was some neutral coasting, but no key off moments. He also stated that the metric of how long they could go solely on battery wasn’t a major issue for them.
Have a look at the video portion of our interview:
Next we spoke with Wayne Gerdes. Wayne is a legend in the hypermiling community and was brought in by Ford to lead the team for this event. He spent time with all the team members training them in his way of driving to maximize milage, and drive them to reach for a higher goal than even they had looked to achieve.
Here is the video portion of our interview:
After 10+ years of interviewing people you think I would learn my lesson, but I’m sorry to say that after we stopped rolling the video portion of the interview we spent twenty minutes more talking with Wayne, getting to know him, and I didn’t record any of it! DOH!!!!
It turns out that Wayne is a big proponent of modern clean diesel technology, even though he “made his bones” with the hybrids. Wayne is a hardcore enthusiast, just in a different manner than we would normally associate that term with car people. He is as hard core as the guy who drive a high 8 second street strip car with a .750+” solid roller cam on the street. It takes a special kind of person to do that since many times it’s not the most comfortable ride, but you are doing it to prove a point.
You can find out more about Wayne, his adventures and his cause at www.cleanmpg.com
We were invited to attend the Ford Fusion Hybrid “1000 Miles On A Single Tank” event in Alexandria Virginia, with the idea that we would drive one of the media cars back to Detroit. Fortunately the schedule worked out and we had a great time.
Ford has really made an effort to distance its self from GM and Chrysler not only in refusing to take Government money, GM is routinely referred to as Government Motors or Obama Motors, and most people expect Chrysler to just go away, but also in its car lineup, pushing hybrids and other gas efficient vehicles and technologies.
The event was produced in the D.C. area for a number of reasons, but all the publicity in front of the nations lawmakers certainly had to be at the top of the list. Ford brought in two big hitters for the event coming from two different worlds. The driving part of the event was lead by Wayne Gerdes, the man who not only coined the term hypermiling, but is thought to be the Yoda of that world. The other person brought in was Carl Edwards, he of the Roush-Fenway NASCAR team. While Carl's stint in the cars was brief, he was busy racing at Talladega on Sunday, and after the horrific crash he was involved it was amazing he was even there. Before Carl got into the car he got a driving lesson in one of the Fusion Hybrid media cars with Wayne, you can see that video here. Wayne had high praise about Carl and was amazed at how quickly he picked up on the techniques. Carl was the guy who put the car over the top for 1000 mile challenge, but his real value to the team was the PR he did for the event, with the media, a twitter chat, and a visit to some influential Senators on Capital Hill.
At the end of the event, which ended about 5:30AM on Tuesday the team and the car had covered 1445 miles working out to an average of 81.5MPG.
We had the opportunity to drive one of the two loops that they were using for the event, one that took you right up to Mount Vernon. Driving at the posted speed limits in one of the media cars, and using some the the techniques that Wayne taught the other members of the driving team, we were able to average 52.5MPG. For the event in the official car, driving the posted speed limit wasn't always done, they rarely drove that quickly, rather they were doing everything possible to maximize fuel economy.
One of the things that we wanted to see in attending this event was, what "real world" results could be had. What could the average person pull off in "normal" driving without going to the extremes that were required to achieve the 81.5 MPG of the driving team. While certainly trying to maximize the use of the battery and the electric part of the drive system is important, the largest factor in achieving the numbers was simply accelerating a bit lighter, being more conscious of distances so we weren't on and off the throttle or jamming on the brakes, just to have to go right back the accelerator pedal. While 52.5 pales compared to what the team did, I think it's pretty realistic in what you could do in daily driving on surface streets, if you tried just a little bit. We should note that our drive was done with the air conditioner on, it was kept off in the official car as the pull of the system on the drive systems makes a substantial difference in mileage.
For the drive home, again, we wanted to see what "normal" drivers might be able to achieve. We made no real efforts to maximize mileage rather we prefer our cool, conditioned air, the audio system on and at a higher volume, Sirius channels 24 & 35 for most of the drive, and once we got to Ohio, mostly continuous use of the cruise control. Just as a note, anyone who tells you that using the cruise control gets you better mileage is wrong. The first part of our drive in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania we drove without the cruise engaged, but everything else the same and achieved 40.5 MPG as you can see in this photo. Yes the cruise is engaged in the photo, but hey we are taking a pic going down the highway at speed, so cut us SOME slack!
At the end of the trip we averaged 38.6 MPG, not as good as I had hoped, but still in both city and highway driving, in what I would term a "real world driver" in "real world driving", we beat the official EPA numbers of 41 city and 36 highway, so I would call that a win for the car.
Lets dive in and talk a little bit more about the 2010 Fusion Hybrid as a car.
From the front straight on and front three quarter views, the designers at Ford have done a good job with this car. It looks sharp, with a bit of an edge, and you can see the merger of the US razor blade grill design with elements of the front end designs we've seen on European Fords like the Mondeo, Fiesta and Ka in the last couple years. Other views of the car from the side, rear three quarters, and a straight rear view, aren't as striking, but they aren’t bad, just not as inspired.
Ford is going a good job with their interiors of late. The materials in this vehicle were as good, if not better than the ones in the Flex we tested back in March. The leather of the seats might not have been as supple, but the dash and center stack were of better materials, no question. The charcoal black leather with the white stitching looked nice and had a good feel to it.
At 5’10” there was plenty of rear seat leg room, even with the seat all the way back.
From the drivers seat everything falls nicely into place. The dash which for now is unique to the Fusion Hybrid, but should eventually make it’s way into other vehicles, is striking, and informative without giving you flashbacks to those cheesy “Tokyo By Night” dashes that were popular among many manufactures from the mid 80’s to the early 90’s. It is configurable from very simple information displayed to laying out everything. We chose to leave the settings showing us everything just to get the maximum effect.
The most informative,and some would argue the most important piece of the instrumentation is the instant fuel economy slider. Just paying attention to this can make a big difference in your overall fuel economy. The other is the power meter where you can see not only the use of the electric motor, but also gage how far into the power you are dipping. Using these two gages are key to achieving the highest mileage.
Bob Ross would also approve of the dash since if you do what the system thinks is a good job of driving in an eco friendly manner, it will give you more leaves and show you a truly happy tree.
The car came with the full bore Sync system and given that this is a hybrid it had an additional screen that gave you a real time view of the power flows in the system. The turn by turn directions worked flawlessly which was good since we haven’t been in the DC area in about 25 years and never driven it. Navigating traffic reading off the printed Google Maps directions would have worked, just been a bit more stressful in some of the high traffic areas. The only thing that would have been nice with the Sat Nav system would be the ability to change the voice. Every over the counter $100+ GPS device will let you do this, if it was possible here, we couldn’t find it.
Lastly the car came equipped with the blind spot sensor. It is a light in the side view mirrors that lights up if it detects someone in your blind spot. No audible tone, which WAS appreciated, just enough of a light for you to notice to take a second look. It worked well.
If you are a sales person, or anyone who spends extended time on the highway, then you will like this car. It drives down the highway nicely. It’s a car you can put in a 1000 mile day and not feel worn out. When we stopped overnight in Pennsylvania it wasn’t because we were tired from driving, more the fact that we had been up since 5AM to catch the 7AM flight down to DC then spend the day covering the event before we could start to head back at 9PM. No need to push it since I’m sure the people at Ford wouldn’t want us rolling down the highway if the dash began to look like this.
The drivers seat is comfortable, it strikes a nice balance where it’s firm, but not so much that you constantly move around to find a comfortable spot. The interior is quiet, not tomb like, but using the hands free system with Sync, people you are talking to on the phone will have no problem hearing you, nor you them.
While our highway driving was limited to the interstates, there were enough curvy mountain areas to get an idea of how the car feels at speed. It always felt planted with little body roll. This will make the hypermilers happy since one of their key strategies to is take curves as fast as possible. This car isn’t a BMW M3 by any means, but it’s closer to that than say a Buick or a Lincoln of old. It definitely drives better than a Toyota Camry, which it, not a Prius or the new Honda Insight, is it’s direct competitor. More on this in a minute. The car may be a bit shy of European standards in ride and handling, then again what the Euros would call correct, Americans would call firm, rough or stiff, hence this compromise. I’ll say it again, this is a car you might enjoy driving and piling on the miles, rather than be an automotive appliance to get you from point A to point B in of which the Prius is a FIVE STAR example of.
I’m told that Carl Edwards liked the car enough that he bought one with his own cash, at full price, that’s not a bad endorsement.
We will come out and say it directly, we are skeptics when it comes to hybrids. At the end of the day we feel that clean diesel technology is a better, cheeper, faster and more eco friendly way to build vehicles that return high MPG.
If you look at Ford’s own stable of cars in Europe, the Mondeo, the closest car in terms of size to the Fusion, with a 2.0 liter Duratorq TDCi ECOnetic motor gets 45 MPG, the new Fiesta with the 1.6 liter Duratorq TDCi motor gets 63.5MPG. The costs to build and maintain diesels are far less than than the battery electric hybrids we are seeing now, and much less complex.
That said the US Government are pushing all car manufactures in the battery electric hybrid direction via incentives to manufactures and the consumers, Ford seeing the writing on the wall has decided that it’s easier to go with the flow then to fight an up hill battle, even if they know it’s not the best solution.
Back to an earlier point. Most people will look at the Fusion’s MPG numbers and immediately call it a failure and point directly the the Prius. What they will fail to take into account is that the Prius is not a mid size car, it’s a compact. It looks and feels larger because it’s a five door hatchback, if the Prius had a trunk, rather than a hatch, it WOULD qualify as a compact car. The interior is also junk. The fit and finish may be fine, but the quality of materials is of much lower in spec then the Ford. It also rides and handles poorly and gives you the feeling of a riding in a can, not a car. The Fusion feels like a proper mid size car that fully specked out as ours was borders on being classified as a near luxury car, not something that feels like it’s a $99 washing machine. We aren’t the only ones who have driven both cars to come to this opinion by the way. If you want a direct comparison between Ford and Toyota hybrids then you need to compare the Fusion to the Camry, that is the fair and equal measure.
Based on the information on Ford’s website this car would sticker out a few bucks shy of $32,000. If the average price of a car is north of $30,000 now, I can call this reasonable value for money. While this car didn’t make me a convert, it at least addressed some of my issues, the main one being that first in foremost it has to be a good car, not a political and fashion statement. I have ZERO problems recommending this car and would rate it 8.75 on a scale of 1-10.