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For decades, the prospect of electric cars has hovered around the industry, spiking interest when oil prices spiked. But eventually, relief at the pump cooled consumer desires, and few took sustained interest in electric automotive power. It was written off as impractical, expensive, trendy, or all of the above. Manufacturers stuck with improving fuel economy for gas-powered vehicles and, like the market, left electric power for later consideration.

When an apparently permanent overall rise in the price of crude oil emerged in the last few years, Ford Motor Company went to the forefront of efficient electrical car operation. It’s a fitting role for the company that led in efficient construction of cars with Henry Ford’s mass production plan, and that same spirit of Detroit innovation is now behind Ford’s successful hybrid program.

The Development of Practical Technology

The industry realized several years ago that a 100% electric car would never work, given the state of battery technology. You could simply not store enough electricity to get any travel range. So Ford continued to emphasize the market for efficient gasoline-only operation. The 2006 Fusion logged 26 miles per gallon, already an enviable figure, but one bound for the history books as engineers developed the hybrid motor, in which a gasoline motor kicks in when batteries lack the power for driving conditions. Drivers did not want to sacrifice performance and safety to save fuel, and the result was hybrid technology that has made striking gains in fuel economy.

What have the gains been? The new hybrid Ford Fusion Energi matches its older brother’s looks and highway performance–and does it at 44mpg. Much of the credit for that jump goes to the hybrid power train, but it’s not just under the hood where fuel savings are taking place.

It IS the Hood… and the Frame, and the Fenders…

Starting in the late 1980’s, Ford began reducing the overall size of their family sedans. Part of the redesign was due to style trends, but the lower mass of the machines was also a big boost to fuel economy as well. And Ford has found ways to reduce the weight of vehicles without reducing the size, so that heavy-use vehicles like pickups can still move the same amount of cargo with a lower rate of fuel consumption.

Now that cars like the Fusion are as small as passenger size and cargo loads will tolerate, Ford is using the same strategy of component weight reduction to push even further with fuel economy.

Not Just Lighter, But Sleeker

Overall trends in design have created a higher level of acceptance for the Fusion’s aerodynamic design. Just like chunky square-cornered televisions, furniture, and more, the boxy cars of decades past are gone. And those cars have received a hearty “Good riddance!” from eco-minded automotive interests, who know that the lower ground clearance, gentler lines, and lower-profile tires of current vehicles enable those autos to cut more cleanly into the wind, reducing drag and increasing fuel economy. Ford’s air-moving design for the fusion, always a hallmark of the model, make it a fuel-sipping glider through even the heaviest air.

Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.