The marketplace has yet to decide on the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid - and its even more important, non-hybrid big brother - but stock investors certainly have given Ford a vote of confidence.
This week, Ford said it netted a total of $1.6-billion (U.S.) from selling 300 million common shares. So that's a big hunk of cash raised by a Detroit-based auto maker at a time when the other two are, as we all know, in a big mess. Ford's new money will mostly be used to fund a health-care trust for union workers in the United States.
Yes, Ford still posted a net loss of $1.43-billion in the first quarter. That's not good, although not completely out of line in today's automotive world. Toyota, for instance, said it had a loss of nearly $8-billion in its latest quarter.
Despite the cash burn, Ford's bosses say they believe the company has enough cash and cash-equivalent funding to operate through this economic mess. They also added, at the company's annual meeting, that they believe no government loans will be required.
The optimism - tempered, of course - is based on one thing: new products. The Fusion and its hybrid cousin are the first in a new model blitz coming over the next 18 months.
"We know we cannot just cut our way to success," said CEO Alan Mulally.
This year, Ford will launch not just the Fusion but also a new Taurus, a new Lincoln crossover and other updated models. The idea is to produce vehicles - cars, in particular, and what a shocker that is - that customers "want and value," Mulally said at the annual meeting.
And then there is Ford's electric-car plan.
"This year, we are also launching one of the most aggressive vehicle electrification programs in the industry," he said, pointing to the Transit Connect small van with battery electric power.
It is the first of what Ford says will be many pure battery-powered vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Beyond the battery-powered Transit Connect in 2010, Ford also plans a new battery-electric small car in 2011; next-generation hybrid vehicles in 2012; and plug-in hybrids in 2012.
But it all starts here, with the 2010 Fusion Hybrid ($31,999). Ford's credibility is on the line with this car. If the new Fusion Hybrid flops, investors won't be snapping up any more shares and buyers will either hold onto their wallets or empty them elsewhere.
The '10 Fusion is a very promising start. Here's a number that might bring this mid-size hybrid sedan into better focus: 2,325.50 kilometres (1,445 miles). On a single tank of regular gas. In the 2010 Fusion Hybrid.
Sure, Ford organized the stunt - drivers trained in fuel-economy techniques drove around Washington, D.C., averaging 81.5 miles per gallon or about 2.9 litres/100 km. That's nearly double the Fusion Hybrid's official fuel-economy numbers: 4.6 L/100 km city and 5.4 highway.
This Fusion Hybrid is a match for the best hybrid sedans from Toyota and Honda. I'm talking about the 2010 Toyota Prius here and the 2010 Honda Insight. I've driven both and Ford has nothing to apologize for here, to explain away with bafflegab.
In fact, it's not merely a good hybrid, it's a good car. Period.
The fuel-saving electric steering feels nicely connected. The regenerative braking is smooth, linear and predictable, not grabby and irritating (as has long been the case with hybrids sold to date).
The firm chassis delivers a comfortable ride on the highway - one with good road isolation at higher speeds, especially - yet things here are tight enough and controlled enough to make driving a pleasant, confident experience on winding country roads.
That is true despite the fuel savings from the not-very-sporty Michelin Energy MXV4S8 tires. Oh, and the Fusion Hybrid gets better fuel economy than the slightly less pricey $30,900 2010 Camry Hybrid (5.7 city/5.7 highway).