With the completely redesigned Toyota Camry and VW Passat already on sale and next-gen models of the Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima all set to follow in relatively short order, the level of competition in the mid-size sedan segment is about to heat up considerably. While most of those fresh entries remain under wraps for now, Ford looks to be staking out a leadership position on the technology front, recently announcing that the 2013 Ford Fusion would be the first car in the segment to offer a lane keeping system.
Driving Between the Lines
Ford’s system leverages a small digital camera that’s mounted right in front of the rearview mirror and is capable of detecting lane markers on the road ahead of the vehicle; if it senses the Fusion is drifting out of its lane without the driver having used a turn signal—a potential indicator of an overly tired pilot—it can then provide a series of alerts and even, to some extent, take matters into its own “hands.”
Here’s how the system works: Once the driver enables the technology and the Fusion reaches a speed of 40 mph, an icon in the instrument panel will light up to show the system is active. If it detects that the vehicle is drifting out of its lane, the icon then will turn yellow and the Fusion’s steering wheel will vibrate similar to the way it would if the car were being driven over rumble strips. If the driver doesn’t respond, the system icon glows red and will “nudge” the steering wheel to push the car back toward the center of the lane. Continued drifting will cause the system to combine the steering-wheel vibration and nudging functionalities. However, both warnings can be defeated by the driver turning the steering wheel, accelerating or braking.
Further, if the lane keeping system detects an ongoing pattern of dangerous driving that’s consistent with having a sleepy driver at the wheel, it can engage another set of alerts to urge the driver to pull over for a rest.
All this new safety technology also will be added to the Ford Explorer in 2012 before spreading throughout a significant chunk of the company’s lineup during the next few years.
Ford points to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to showcase the importance of this system, too, noting that the NHTSA “conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes occur every year as a result of drowsy drivers, leading to 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.”
The Fusion’s Record Run Continued
Ford will show off this new technology—and the rest of the 2013 Fusion—in the first part of January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit; the car is then slated to go on sale a bit later in 2012, coming to market backed by some record-setting momentum: Surprisingly, the current model is on a streak during which it set a monthly sales record in 13 of the past 14 months, and is on its way to its third consecutive annual sales record. Final 2011 sales hadn’t been tallied when this story was written, but Ford is expecting the Fusion to finish up the year with about 240,000 deliveries, representing an increase of 15 percent. That’s an impressive feat for a car at the very end of its lifecycle.
The problem is, the Fusion still trails the Camry and Altima in sales despite its strong numbers and, as mentioned, will face even stiffer competition next year. At the same time, sales of the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus have been somewhat disappointing in 2011, with deliveries of the former reaching a plateau at around 3,000-3,500 units per month, and the figures for the latter showing a distinctly downward trend as of late.
So, while it’s true that Ford is now the best-selling brand in America, and recently became the first brand to deliver more than 2 million units in a single year since 2007, the company could definitely use a true hit on the car side of the business. Luckily for Ford, the 2013 Fusion just may fill that bill.