Ford Fusion Hybrid Garners Another Win, But is it Bad Journalism?

Ford is having a great run of it. Just today they announced a $2.1 billion first quarter 2010 profit, which is up from 2009’s first quarter by $3.5 billion (yep, they lost $1.4 billion in Q1 2009). I don’t think there’s any other greater vote of confidence in their new line of products than that… but the good press on their products keeps on coming.

In a comparison on the San Francisco Chronicle website, out of 7 hybrids analyzed the Ford Fusion Hybrid came out number one in terms of how many years it will take to pay off the added cost of the hybrid system versus a non-hybrid model. According to the paper, at only 5.6 years the Fusion Hybrid beats the next closest competitor by almost 6 years. But is the analysis really meaningful or has the SF Chronicle bunged this one up badly?

Before we get too far into this, the SF Chronicle article is quite lacking in terms of transparency of their evaluative process. Questions such as exactly what options the models they compared had, what price of fuel they used to make future savings calculations and how many miles they took as the average driven annually are not answered. Granted, it looks like the Chronicle just pulled the article off of a news service called “Investopedia,” but still… some editor at the Chronicle approved it for publishing.

Hybrid models often come with lots of standard features that their non-hybrid base models only have as options. Were they careful to make sure they equipped the cars similarly in their calculations? This I don’t know because they are less than forthcoming. Also, because the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight don’t have “non-hybrid” base models to directly compare them to, the article used a Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit as the comparables… which just doesn’t make any sense.

Putting all the questions aside for a moment, according to the article, with only a $3,200 premium over its non-hybrid base model, the Ford Fusion Hybrid will take a scant 5.6 years to pay off the hybrid premium in fuel savings. Its next closest competitor, the Mercury Milan Hybrid will reportedly take 13 years to pay off — which is kind of strange considering the Mercury Milan is essentially a higher end carbon copy of the Fusion.

Among other competitors, the article says the Camry Hybrid will take 15 years to pay off, the Honda Insight 16.5, the Civic Hybrid 17, the Prius 20, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid 21. In my own experience, those numbers seem way off. Like so much of our journalism today, it feels like the SF Chronicle has gone and filled up space with an essentially useless comparison that at best won’t help anybody make any meaningful decisions, and at worst, gives certain vehicles an undeserved bad rap.

What do you think? Useful comparison or bad journalism… or something of a mix? Certainly the Fusion Hybrid is a great car and a great value, as I’ve said before. But is the good press that Ford is getting recently starting to get bogged down by the unobjectivity of rallying behind an underdog?


Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.