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Ford Fusion Hybrid

7th February 2010

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

The Ford Fusion has been around since the 2006 model year, and has always been considered a very good, nice looking car that is fun to drive. For the 2010 model year, introduced last year, the styling was updated to be more aggressive, and also given upgraded engines and a new interior. As mid-cycle freshenings go, this was fairly extensive and well-received. So well, in fact, that it was named the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year®.

The Fusion also added a hybrid model, which received the latest generation of Ford’s hybrid system, previously available on the Escape and Mariner SUVs. The new version is smaller, lighter and costs less than its predecessor. The main (maybe only) reason people buy a hybrid is to save fuel. There are different reasons to save fuel (lessen reliance on foreign oil/national security, to save $, curb global warming, other environmental concerns), but everybody is looking to save fuel. So how does the Fusion Hybrid stack up? As you can see in the table, the EPA rates the hybrid at 39 MPG combined, compared to 25 in the regular 4-cylinder Fusion. As the EPA calculates it, that will save you about $575/year (assumes 15,000 miles and $2.66/gallon). Not bad, but at that rate, it would take you 6¼ years to get your money back. This is based on a $3600 MSRP premium for the hybrid system, after adjusting for major equipment differences. As noted above, there are other reasons than simply dollars and cents that go into purchasing a hybrid, but if you are looking at it in only those terms, the investment doesn’t really work well.

When I picked up the Atlantis Green (a beautiful very dark green) Hybrid with 8915 miles on it, the first thing you notice is that it has what Ford calls the “Silent Start” system. As you can figure out on your own, this means that there is no “cranking” of the starter or “turning over” of the engine like in conventional cars. Instead, you twist the key (key? that’s so 20th century, Ford), and you take it on faith that the car has actually started. The only way I really knew it was ready to go is I put it in gear and it went.

The next thing you notice is the video game-like graphics populating the various infotainment screens –

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

one on either side of the central speedo (Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide) and the larger navigation screen on the center stack. The screen on the left side of the speedo contains various combinations of information that indicate how the engine and battery are working together. You can choose from 4 levels of information called Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower.

Inform is the most basic, and it only shows you the battery charge level. Next up is Enlighten, which adds a tach and an indication of the battery power being used. Engage adds the engine power being used to go with the battery, so you can try to maximize the battery usage vs. the engine. Empower offers the highest level of information. It shows you how much power you are using for the accessories (radio, climate control, lights, etc.) and also shows you how close you are to the gas engine on/off threshold vs. total power demand. This can help you to feather the accelerator to stay in the battery-powered area as long as possible if you are looking to maximize fuel economy. when you are in electric-only mode, you get rewarded with a green section at the bottom of the screen that says “EV”. At all levels except Inform, arrows on the battery charge graph show if the battery is being used or charged at any given time. It also shows green circular arrows when the regenerative brakes are active.

At this point, I should point out that the regenerative brakes are a bit of a problem. All 17,600 units built before 10/17/2009 have a software glitch that can result in a perceived loss of braking power as it shifts unnecessarily from regenerative brakes to regular. There is no actual loss of power, but the driver will have to apply extra force to obtain the necessary braking. No injuries have been reported. I experienced no brake issues of any kind.

The right side of the display shows instant fuel economy and either “efficiency leaves” or the recent efficiency as a bar graph. The leaves grow and produce more leaves as you drive efficiently, and loses them when you don’t. It’s fun to try to grow as many leaves as possible. I think that’s the point. It also shows you a trip summary every time you turn off the car, including trip fuel economy, distance traveled, gallons used and long-term fuel economy.

So how does it drive? For the most part, just like a “regular” Fusion. Which is to say, very well. The combined 191 horsepower is plenty for normal, even spirited, driving. It isn’t going win you any pinks at Thunder Road, though. But if that’s what you want, you can opt for one of the 2 different V6s (3.0L or 3.5L) that are available on the petrol Fusion. It also handles very well in the curves and the brakes, especially with the regenerative system (which uses the braking energy usually lost as heat to recharge the battery) are very good.

The Fusion Hybrid can drive up to 47 MPH in electric-only mode. I was “only” able to achieve 42 MPH. For comparison, a Toyota Prius can go 25 MPH on the battery alone. When I turned off the fan and the radio, the Fusion was so quiet in EV mode that when it came to a stop, you could clearly hear the various fluids sloshing around in their respective receptacles. It’s a bit like drinking a big glass of water and then doing jumping jacks. I never heard that in a car before.

Issues? A few. The EV mode doesn’t seem to be available when you first start driving. This is unfortunate, because emissions and fuel economy are both much worse when the engine is cold. If the battery could be utilized (assuming it is charged enough) to power the car and heat up the engine at start, both fuel economy and emissions would improve. By not having battery power available until the engine is heated completely, you also don’t get much help from the battery on a very short trip. Because my test was done in Michigan in February, the cold weather is at least partially responsible for this. Batteries simply don’t function as well in the cold.

Usually, as the computer shifts between gas, battery power and both, you do not notice it at all. As I found out testing the car, this is because you are normally applying the throttle at the time (when it shifts from battery to gas), or maybe not at all (when it shifts from gas back to battery). However, if you are attempting to maximize your economy by using the accelerator very lightly, the car shutters noticeably when shifting from EV to gas. It isn’t a violent shutter, but it is noticeable.

One other nit. As shown in the table, the hybrid gives up almost 30% of its trunk space, due to the hybrid systems. I guess this is to be expected; the battery has to go someplace, but it comes at a price.

In a variety of driving – stop & go city, highway, very gentle to full throttle, I came away very impressed with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Overall, this is a solid performer. It gets better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid (41/36/39 vs. 33/34/34), and the Fusion overall is more reliable than the Camry, according to Consumer Reports.

Rating: 8½ out of 10. Excellent, but not perfect.

Fusion Hybrid

Fusion I4 SEL

Base Price (MSRP)




2.5L I4 w/HEV

2.5L I4








CVT Automatic

6-speed automatic

EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)



Curb Weight (lbs.)



Fuel Tank Capacity (gallons)



Range (city/hwy/combined)



Trunk Capacity (cubic feet)



Major Equipment Differences:

Reverse Sensing System



110-volt Power Point



Ambient Lighting



Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide



6CD Changer instead of Single CD



Fold down Split Rear Seat



Eco-Friendly Cloth Seating



Leather-trimmed and Heated Seats



Dual Exhaust



Regenerative Braking System



Driver’s Knee Airbag



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E85 – What You Need to Know

3rd December 2009

First, please understand that this isn’t a scientific journal, nor an economics one. This is an automotive website, so this discussion will only talk about E85 as it pertains to cars and driving. I will not discuss whether E85 is artificially cheaper because of government subsidies (it is) or whether or not the production of E85 from corn takes food away from people (I don’t know). I only want to briefly educate you about the pros and cons of buying a car that can use E85 and what you can expect when you do use it.

E85 is the abbreviation for fuel that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. No vehicles for sale in the US can run on ethanol alone. You need at least that 15% gasoline. Vehicles that can run on E85 can run on any ethanol/gasoline combination with at least 15% gasoline. That’s why they’re called flex fuel vehicles (FFVs). You can fill up on E85 one day, then regular gasoline the next time without any problem. Flex fuel vehicles are more expensive to build than “regular” vehicles because of the special components that can withstand the corrosive nature of ethanol. There are only 2211 stations that sell E85 in the US, which means that most vehicles capable of running on E85 never do. So why do the automakers build them? They get CAFE credits for offering the FFVs, even if they never use E85 (can you say “loophole”?) and you get to feel good aboutmaybe helping lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

So what’s the difference when you use E85 instead of gas? The first thing you’ll notice is that E85 tends to cost less, though not always and the amount varies. says that the national average price is $2.22/gallon, while regular gasoline is $2.57/gallon. Great, right? Not so fast, my friend. Because of the differences between the fuels and the engine design compromises made to allow the engine to use either fuel (or any combination of them), using E85 results in lower fuel economy versus using gasoline in the same vehicle. The Slandy Report analyzed the differences in the EPA rating of every FFV sold in the US and found that the rating is approximately 27% lower for E85 use than for gasoline. We also found that the average range of a tank of gas is also more than 100 miles less on E85 than for gasoline, so you would need to refuel more often. When you combine the lower prices of E85 with the lower fuel economy, E85 still comes out more expensive by 16% compared with gasoline. In other words, gas is 16% cheaper than E85 if you look at cost per mile.

So why buy an FFV? Some things are not easily quantified in dollars, like the foreign oil point made above. While E85 is more expensive to use than gas, you will use 79% less gasoline per mile driven than if you use gasoline. Corn is also a renewable source, so theoretically, we would never run out. Buying an FFV vehicle is a matter of choice, of course, and so it the decision to use E85 instead of gasoline. You now have some real-world facts that will help guide your decision.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Showing that they care much more about ratings and sensationalism that about actual facts, Fox “News” came out strongly criticizing the recent Department of Energy (DOE) loans to Fisker and Tesla.  Fisker was awarded $528 million and Tesla $465 million.  It is difficult to enumerate all of the false and misleading statements in the following video clips, but here is a sampling of the junk that they try to pass off as news:

  • Many times, the loans are derided as a handout to “foreign” companies “creating jobs in Finland” and “going to build a car in Finland for $89,000”.  In fact, both companies are American, based in California.  The confusion on the part of Fox and its guests is from the fact that presently, Tesla only produces one model, which is made in Great Britain. Fisker doesn’t produce anything yet, but its first model, the Karma, will be assembled in Finland. However, the loans are for the development and eventual manufacture of lower-priced models from both companies that will be made in the US.
  • Stating and strongly implying that the only reason that Fisker received the loan is because Al Gore is involved and was pulling the strings behind the scenes.  In fact, Al Gore is a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a major investor in Fisker.  However, another partner is Colin Powell, who once considered running for president as a Republican.  Fox offers no evidence of tampering by Gore or KPCB.  It just throws out the implication.
  • They have David Williams of “Citizens Against Government Waste” to discuss.  He rails against the loans as wasteful.  Fine.  Disagree with the program if you want, but Fox also asks him about the cars and whether they are worthy of the loans.  This guy doesn’t know any more that the hosts when he says the money will not help the average American.  See first point.
  • At the end of the first segment, almost as an after thought, the host mentions that Fisker says the money will be used to fund another model, but it isn’t even designed yet.  Great job on doing your homework.  Even for the best car companies, it takes years and millions (sometimes billions) of dollars to design and develop a vehicle to sell.  Fisker (and Tesla) are going to use these low interest loans to fund that very development, so of course the new vehicles aren’t developed yet.
  • The 2nd segment includes a writer from the Wall Street Journal, who is no better.  Several times, he refers to Fisker as a “Finland company” and Tesla as a “British company”.  Then he says 3-4 times, “I don’t agree with this type of government largess, but if you’re going to do this, at least give the money to an American company.”  I almost expect this type of bluster from Fox, but not the Wall Street Journal.  They are supposed to at least be knowledgeable about business.  If they’re not, what value are they to anybody?  He even tries to equate this to the US contracting out the moon program of the 1960s to the Russians.  Unbelievable.
  • They conveniently leave out the fact that 1 truly foreign company has already received over $1 billion in DOE loans – Nissan.  Ford and Nissan received funds in the first installment of the DOE program earlier this year.  As a US taxpayer, I would much rather my tax $ go to Fisker and Tesla than Nissan.  Nissan’s profits and intellectual property are in Japan, where the good jobs truly are located.

By the way, Fisker has issued a press release disputing the reports about the loan and about the company. Tesla has also attempted to calm the storm and get the facts out.  You can read the Fisker release here, and the Tesla release here.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Chevy Volt Gets 230 MPG??

12th August 2009

Chevrolet announced yesterday that the upcoming Volt will achieve 230 MPG in the city, easily beating the Toyota Prius’ lame 50 MPG.  Chevy boss Brent Dewar was overheard saying, “nah-nah-nah…nah-nah…nah”  If nothing else, the announcement generated a lot of attention from the media.  At least 2 major networks, CNN and NBC, featured the story on the nightly news last night.  Both seemed very skeptical of the claim, which is based on preliminary EPA testing procedures for so-called extended range electric vehicles (EREV).  I read a little about the procedure and how it works.  Maybe I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but it seems to translate as, “Trust us.  We plugged in a few numbers into a computer, and it gave us 230.  Woo-hoo!”

Basically, the fact that the Volt uses only grid-supplied electricity for the first 40 miles of use makes the EPA come up with a “miles per gallon equivalent” which it then combines with the fuel economy when it is using gasoline as the “range-extender.” That calculation is what resulted in the 230 city MPG.  EPA numbers are always a bit nebulous, but in this case, I think they are especially so.  In a “normal” car, you might be able to achieve the EPA numbers with conservative driving.  In this case, you have no chance, because apparently, 80% of us will never use any gas (if they plug it in every day).  What’s their economy, ∞?  And how, really, do you average ∞ with another number for the drivers who do use some gas?  These questions – and many others – will be answered in the next episode of Soap.

All of this is just preliminary, as the final numbers will depend on actual EPA testing closer to launch next year.  But if the 230 is real (and by “real” I mean what will show up on the label, not what you will actually get), it will certainly set the Volt apart from the rest of the crowd.  As NBC’s reporter pointed out last night, 230 is about 10 times the average car today.  It’s an eye-popping number that will get Chevy and GM a lot of attention.

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GM announced today that their 2010 full-size pickups will achieve a higher EPA rating for 2010, giving the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra the highest fuel economy in the segment (previously, the highest economy versions tied with the best Ford F150).

Silverado and Sierra 5.3L V-8 engine EPA-estimated fuel economy improves for 2010 from 14 city / 20 highway to 15 city / 21 highway MPG, while Extra Fuel Economy (XFE) models move from 15 city / 21 highway to 15 city / 22 highway MPG. This development, combined with the fact that GM’s hybrid pickups achieve an EPA estimated 21 city / 22 highway, puts Silverado and Sierra at the top in fuel economy.  This fuel economy improvement comes with no compromise in capability. Horsepower, payload, and trailering specifications remain the same for Chevy and GMC full-size pickups.

For reference, the following information is the most recent available EPA-estimated comparable fuel economy data for GM’s main competitors in this segment.

  • Ford – 5.4L: 14 city / 20 hwy; 4.6L with 6-speed transmission: 15 city / 21 hwy
  • Dodge – 5.7L: 14 city / 20 hwy
  • Toyota – 5.7L: 14 city / 18 hwy; 4.6L: 15 city / 20 hwy
  • Nissan – 5.6L: 13 city / 18 hwy

To be fair, GM is comparing its 2010 models against 2009 models for all of the above except Toyota.  Ford, Dodge and Nissan may well have a fuel economy trick up their sleeves for 2010 also.  Nevertheless, GM is showing that it takes fuel economy seriously and will do what it can to make incremental improvements without resorting to smaller vehicles with less capability.  Nice work.

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Amid all the doom and gloom in Detroit, and all of the hoopla surrounding Toyota’s hybrid program (you would think that “Toyota” is Japanese for “hybrid”), Ford quietly announced that it has produced its 100,000th hybrid SUV.  Ford launched the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids five years ago and the vehicles remain the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market.  Today, the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV and Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV deliver 34 mpg city driving, 31 mpg highway.  This makes them the most fuel-efficient hybrid SUVs available, beating the Toyota Highlander (27 city / 25 highway) by several miles per gallon on the EPA list.

In 2004, Ford introduced the world to the first hybrid SUV – the Ford Escape Hybrid – by taking a record-breaking trek through the congested streets of Manhattan, where the vehicle exceeded all expectations, driving 37 straight hours and 576 miles on a single tank of gas.  In 2005, it became the first hybrid vehicle to be used as a taxi in the U.S. The Escape Hybrid taxis were first introduced in San Francisco, and soon after, in New York City. There are now 250 Escape Hybrids providing taxi service in San Francisco and 1,400 in New York City.

This month, a San Francisco Escape Hybrid cab fleet accumulated 300,000 miles with no major mechanical problems. It is a true demonstration of the durability and reliability of the vehicles. Compared with conventional cabs, those 300,000 miles translate into a savings of approximately 5,000 gallons of gas or 100,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

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Well, it looks like the D3 will get their bail…er, loan after all.  As of this writing, reports out of Washington say that GM and Chrysler may get up to $15 billion in short-term loans to carry them over until approximately March.  The lame duck Congress and administration are punting this issue to their successors next year.

Congress has been throwing around many ideas to “help” make the D3 more efficient and more profitable, all under the guise of protecting the taxpayers’ money.  Among the ideas:

  • a shotgun wedding of GM and Chrysler
  • limits on the companies’ lobbying – specifically against states’ efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (Democrats want this)
  • appointment of a “car czar” to oversee the restructuring of the industry, including the power to rewrite contracts with lenders, suppliers, dealers and unions
  • force bankruptcy if certain conditions and deadlines are not met
  • cut the union wages and eliminate the so-called “jobs bank” (Republicans)
  • compel bondholders to accept a debt for equity swap
  • forcing the ouster of 1 or more of the CEOs of the D3 and limitations of executive pay and/or bonuses

Depending on the exact final wording of the bill, this could be a disaster for the D3.  Many cliches come to mind, specifically that the “medicine might be worse than the disease.”

I have addressed the GM-Chrysler merger in a previous article, so you can read my thoughts there.

The separate greenhouse emissions regulations by state is beyond ridiculous.  Briefly, you have a group of companies that might not make the payroll this month, and DC wants to saddle them (as well as their competitors) with a ragtag set of regulations that will drive up the complexity of their products many times.  This will further undermine their ability to recover from their current situation.  For those that don’t understand this issue, California and 15 other states have already passed regulations that limit greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) emissions from tailpipes.  Present federal law prohibits states from setting fuel economy standards.  There is one set of standards and the feds have that right exclusively.  So what’s the problem – fuel economy standards aren’t the same as emissions, right?  Wrong.  Gasoline (as well as Diesel fuel) is a hydrocarbon, meaning that it is made up of hydrogen and carbon.  When a hydrocarbon fuel burns completely, the oxygen in the air combines with the hydrogen to form water (H2O) and with the carbon to form carbon dioxide (CO2).  If the burning is not complete, then some of the carbon atoms only combine with one oxygen atom rather than two, to form carbon monoxide (CO), a highly poisonous gas.  Phrased differently, carbon dioxide is formed from burning gasoline or Diesel.  It’s the chemistry that determines that, so the 16 (and counting) states saying that they are only trying to clean up their air is just a smokescreen (pun intended) for going around federal law to set fuel economy standards.  Why is this bad?  Because all of the automakers spend many millions of dollars every year to navigate the extremely complex fuel economy rules.  Believe me, it is way more complex than anybody who has never worked in government could ever imagine.  Now multiply that by perhaps 50.

I want to know the criteria for the selection of the car czar.  Since many in Congress admitted in the hearings that they know nothing about running a car company, what makes them think they know how to pick somebody to oversee the auto industry?  What are the qualifications?  I think they would want somebody with non-automotive manufacturing experience, perhaps a turn-around specialist.  I’ve heard the name Jack Welch thrown around.  Jack would likely be a good choice, but DC doesn’t work that way.  Likely, it will be a politician owed a favor or perhaps a politician out of favor, considering how DC views Detroit.  Detroit is the USA’s Siberia, after all.  But can Sarah Palin see Detroit from her house?  Personally, I’d like to nominate John Engler, former Michigan governor, for the post.  Engler is the President & CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, so he knows all about the issues facing the manufacturers in this country.  He is also a politician, so he knows how get things done in the political world.  He has all of the skills and experience that will be needed in this job, assuming it will exist in the final version of the loan legislation.

If the feds force bankruptcy, they better understand that Chapter 11 (reorganization with court supervision) really means Chapter 7 (liquidation) in this case.  Consumer research has already shown that D3 sales have been hurt by the mere talk of bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy generally works to help a company restructure in a safe environment.  Cars are different.  Besides your home, you will likely never make a bigger purchase than a car.  People keep cars for at least 2 years, sometime much longer.  Be honest – would you make that kind of financial commitment to a company that you’re not sure will be around to honor the warranty?  Make no mistake about this – bankruptcy in this case means the companies go out of business.  What would be better is for Congress to allow all of the bankruptcy rules and protections to apply without a formal declaration and filing of bankruptcy.

The UAW last year negotiated lower wages for all new employees (½ of the prevailing rate), and agreed to buyouts of many existing, higher wage employees.  They also agreed to help take many of the obligations for benefits off the D3 books, and last week agreed to a longer time frame to fund those obligations, saving the D3 precious cash.  Experts agree that when those changes are fully implemented, D3 wages & benefits will be roughly the same as the transplants.  The UAW has also agreed to suspend the jobs bank immediately.  The UAW has come to the table and has given much more than most people realize.  The only part left is in the area of work rules.  The UAW contract contains many different job classifications that are simply out of date.  Supervisors need to have the flexibility to assign workers wherever they are needed, but they don’t presently have that ability.  So while the cost of the workers is now competitive, the D3 are forced to have too many workers.  This should be addressed and fixed.

I have also addressed the situation of the CEOs of the D3 previously, and you can read my thoughts on that as well.  I think that limitations on pay and bonuses are perfectly fair, if the taxpayers’ money goes to help these companies.

The D3 need the taxpayers’ help, and they are going to have to live with whatever restrictions Congress dreams up if they want to survive.  Congress needs to be careful and understand what they’re doing, because they are hardly the example of fiscal expertise.  The D3 might be guilty of mismanagement, but DC certainly is.

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Who Hates the Ice Caps?

3rd June 2008

CAFE (the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy law) should be repealed. Let me repeat that: CAFE should be repealed. You might think this means that I don’t believe in global warming or that I’m a conservative who doesn’t believe in regulation, or maybe that I’m just stupid. I’ll let you judge the 3rd point, but I assure you that neither of the 1st 2 are correct.

I believe in global warming, and I also believe we should do something about it. And while I am against this particular piece of regulation, I believe a tax is the better answer.

I don’t hate the ice caps! I’m all for lowering CO2 emissions everywhere we can. My argument is with CAFE. It does not work, and never has, and never will. It is flawed legislation written by morons who wouldn’t know a supply & demand curve if it slapped them in the face. The way to lower emissions is to give an incentive to people to buy a higher mileage car and to promote conservation. The way to do that is to increase the damn gas tax! Simply telling the manufacturers to increase economy doesn’t work. Billions are spent and the customer never sees it directly. Toyota, GM, Ford, etc. can’t price for this, because all of the cars will have to meet the higher standards, so you have no competitive advantage to justify the higher price. Because the consumers don’t see the cost of the economy, they have no incentive to drive smaller cars and/or drive less. A higher tax, though, would give the consumers an incentive to go buy the more fuel efficient vehicles (and would be willing to pay more for them) and drive less. American consumers and politicians are who they are, however. They want everything and don’t want to pay for it. This is a way to “stick it to big business” while the consumer gets this “free” gift. We need to grow up as a society and understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

Want proof? Cars average 36 mpg in Europe and 31 mpg in Japan vs. only 21 mpg in the United States. Why? Because gas taxes are about 10 times as high in Europe and about 8 times as high in Japan. Faced with such expense, consumers make the rational decision to avoid paying so much for fuel by conserving it. It’s classic economics. You reduce the demand for a product by raising its price, and raise the demand by reducing the price.

I also propose that this increase be channeled directly to improving highways and funding the research & development necessary to increase fuel economy. This funding should be apportioned amongst the automakers in direct proportion to the number of employees they have in the United States. For a change, let’s have a government that actually wants to preserve jobs here in the USA. This isn’t protectionist, it’s simply smart business. Other countries do it and it puts our jobs, our business and our national and economic security at risk.

That’s my opinion; what’s yours?

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