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Ford’s new Fusion plug-in hybrid bows in San Francisco

A dozen years ago, you’d be hard put to find a mass market hybrid or fully electric car being sold in the United States. Sure, there were backyard inventors who were cobbling up interesting electrics and a few of the major car makers were making all-electrics in an effort to appease California regulators who had decreed that a small percentage of new cars sold in that state have zero tailpipe emissions.

But it wasn’t until 1999 that a big car company joined the mass-market fray with a hybrid – the car that freed drivers from the leash of an all-electric’s limited range – when Honda introduced the Insight hybrid. A year later Toyota gave us the Prius, the most successful hybrid of them all – it has sold more than 2 million worldwide. Now the field is crowded – Toyota (and its upscale Lexus), Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, General Motors, Kia and BMW, among others, offer hybrids or even pure electrics. Ford, which already sells a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid in the C-Max line, today (March 20, 2013) came to San Francisco to introduce the new Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.

The car looks much like any other in the Fusion line-up – a midsize four-door sedan that is at once svelte and innocuous . The basic SE model starts at $39,500 and a Titanium edition, with more creature comforts, tops out at $40,700. It’s a considerable sum, given that you can buy an entry-level conventionally powered Fusion (I know, I know…. gas engines are so passé) for less than $28,000. But the auto industry has rarely sold zillions of cars based only on some vague notion of dollars-and-cents value. Sex is part of it – viz. Corvette and Jaguar – and overall image is a lot of it. These days, there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling and even a bit of prestige attached to owning a cutting-edge environment-friendly car and so it doesn’t matter that you’re spending $40,000 (about $10,000 above the national average new-car price) for the Fusion . The point is that it gets more than 100 miles per gallon. There’s also the incentive of tax breaks: Ford says the Fusion Energi qualifies for a $1,500 tax rebate in California and a federal tax credit of $3,750.

Up to 108 mpg

And the Energi version does have its points over conventional hybrids. Plug-in hybrids are just that: you plug them into the wall to recharge their batteries. On the road, they spend more time running on electricity than conventional hybrids and they charge up in a few hours on 120- or 240-volt current. The Fusion Energi which bowed today will recharge in as little as two-and-a-half hours and is said by Ford to get the equivalent of 108 miles per gallon on the highway and 92 in town. That’s a hefty rise from the 47 mpg the regular Fusion hybrid is supposed to get. (Last December, Consumer Reports said it had managed only 39 mpg in its Ford Fusion hybrid. Kia and Hyundai have also been criticized for inflating their EPA mileage figures.) Ford says the fusion Energi will drive 21 miles in all-electric mode before it needs to resort to its two-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine to keep moving.


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