Lost Love: A Car Remembered, A Car Replaced

June 27, 2010

I often lament that I was forced to sell our 1997 Nissan AltimaThe popular five-seat, mid-sized car made the mark for Nissan by proving that Nissan could be relevant in a world dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. The debut of the Altima in 1993 was seen by many at the time as a hail Mary pass by Nissan executives. Whatever the case, Nissan's future was forever changed by the early 1990s release of the Altima. The Altima was a hit.

What I loved most about our '97 Altima was the size of the car. With an overall length of 178 inches, the car was big enough to fit my back-end into comfortably, but not too big to know where the car's back-end was while parallel parking. The sporty 150 horsepower four cylinder engine had more oomph than a Ford Taurus six banger's 140 horsepower. And the over-all size of the car was smaller than either the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry. The Altima reminded buyers of the past generation Camry and Accord in size, shape, and most importantly, quality. It was a very competant, even fun-to-drive family car.

Fast forward to today. High fuel prices ended the golden era of SUVs and pickup trucks as personal transportation. Bold thinking in the corner offices at Ford led to the company borrowing huge sums of money and mortgaging the future in hopes of a remake of the brand. The moved turned out to be a saving grace for Ford; today GM and Chrysler's sales languish due to their tainted image tied to the Federal Government's bailout. Add to this Ford's re-entry into the family car segment with a car that has the best chance of actually making a sale to the average American since the Ford Taurus hit the road in the mid 1980s. The Ford Fusion has so far proven to be the Nissan Altima of this generation of cars.

Given Toyota's mistakes of late, Ford may actually have a better chance at leading the pack than Nissan ever did. Added to the success of a great mid-sized car found in the Ford Fusion. Ford has also added technical and--more importantly--marketing leadership by providing a hybrid version of the Fusion which the public loves. Ford was able to better Toyota and Honda at their own game by selling the public that they [Ford] introduced the first practical application of hybrid technology in a family sedan. Unfortunately for Honda and Toyota, who both have or had a hybrid version of their car on the market before Ford, the wind is in the sails of the blue oval.

Practically speaking, the Ford Fusion is much different than my '97 Nissan Altima. Likewise, is nothing like the car it replaced, the Ford Taurus. The Fusion's bumper-to-bumper dimensions alone are nearly a foot longer than the 1990s Altima. Granted, the segment as a whole has ballooned along with the backside of the average citizen and the size of the next smaller segment are encroaching on what was a mid-sized sedan's dimensions. The current Toyota Corolla's overall length is approaching the length of my '97 Altima and is 5 inches longer than the original 1980s Camry.

2010 Ford Fusion

2010 Ford Fusion

Enlarge Photo

This being said, the Ford Fusion does just about everything right. It has won awards for styling and quality, top honors from Motor Trend, Consumer Reports, Car and Driver and JD Power.  Most importantly to consumers, Ford has sold most of the cars in their showrooms, boosting resale value while still becoming the top American-branded car sold in the U.S.

Looking to the future, Ford seems to be entering into a period of renaissance. Bold business moves matched with products engineered with the motoring public's needs and wants in mind places Henry Ford's empire in an admirable position. In the mid-sized family sedan segment Americans are flocking to the Ford Fusion. Maybe among those owners is someone who will be forced to sell their beloved sedan and is lamenting the loss. To that poor soul, I say be patient, another car will win you over like the Ford Fusion did for me.

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