Ford Motor Co dispatched its top brass to major U.S. cities on Tuesday to promote the 2013 Fusion, a redesigned family sedan the No. 2 U.S. automaker hopes will seize market share from Toyota Motor Corp's <7203.T> Camry.
Ford hopes the third-generation Fusion, which boasts a more athletic design and more fuel economy options, will help boost its U.S. market share. Ford began shipping the car to dealers last week.
The media blitz comes as Ford's board of directors considers a succession plan for Chief Executive Alan Mulally, 67. Ford is also cutting costs in Europe, where it expects to lose more than $1 billion this year, hurt by a sharp slide in sales.
Ford's sales in Europe fell 29 percent in August, while industry sales fell 8.5 percent.
"There is a tremendous decrease in demand, but we're absolutely committed to Europe," Mulally said at a Fusion event in New York. "That will involve some restructuring."
Ford's board is leaning toward promoting Mark Fields, the head of North and South America, to chief operating officer, making him the heir apparent to Mulally, a person familiar with the matter said last week.
But Mulally kept a lid on the finer details of Ford's plans for Europe and his own plans for retirement. He said Ford has a strong internal bench of potential leaders and he was "pleased to continue to serve as CEO of Ford."
"Please don't vote me off," he joked to reporters.
Under Mulally's "One Ford" plan, Ford is moving toward building more cars using fewer platforms, a move that cuts costs but allows Ford to offer more features at a lower price. The Fusion sedan is the third Ford vehicle, after the Fiesta small car and Focus compact car, to get a global overhaul.
The Fusion competes in a bread-and-butter segment of the U.S. auto market, the mid-size sedan, dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Motor Co's <7267.T> Accord. Through August, this segment has risen 26 percent, while overall auto sales are up 15 percent, Ford said.
"This is a transitional vehicle for our company," J Mays, Ford's chief creative officer, said Monday night at an event in Miami Beach. He compared its impact to the 1955 Thunderbird, the 1962 Lincoln Continental or the 1964 Mustang.
Ford is offering three gasoline-powered versions of the Fusion as well as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. In a press release, Ford said the Fusion hybrid's fuel economy, at 47 miles per gallon on the highway and in the city, tops the Camry hybrid.
The Fusion offers a lane-keeping system that alerts a driver if the car drifts into another lane. The Fusion can also parallel park itself, with the active park assist feature.
Buyers of the 1.6-liter Fusion with a turbocharged engine can purchase the $295 auto start-stop system, which shuts the engine off when the car is stopped at a light. Ford is looking to provide this option in a larger number of its vehicles.
"That's been a key point in our turnaround and our success, we've really pushed on being a technology leader and making sure we bring those technologies to the mainstream," said Raj Nair, Ford's head of product development, at an event near Detroit.
The Fusion will be sold as the Mondeo in Europe and China. These models share about 75 percent of the same parts.
Last year, the second-generation Fusion was the seventh-best selling vehicle in the United States. The Camry was in third place and Nissan Motor Co's <7201.T> Altima was in the fifth spot.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in New York and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami Beach; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Tim Dobbyn)