More stories related to 2005 NAIAS DETROIT – At an auto show here where roadsters, hybrids, crossovers and everything in between vies for media attention, Ford Motor Co. is banking on the good old sedan to steal the show. (See related story: Detroit: Coupes, Sedans, Roadsters Signal Car Emphasis)

The Fusion, which is Ford’s second high-volume production sedan to grace the North American International Auto Show stage in as many years, completes the one-two punch initiated by the ’05 Five Hundred.

The duo is meant to fill the gap left by the soon-to-disappear Taurus, whose sales slipped 17.4% in 2004 vs. 2003 to place fourth among sedans in the U.S., trailing the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu, respectively.

Sales in the mid-car segment, which the ’06 Fusion enters later this year, were down 2.5% in 2004 vs. previous-year, with domestic deliveries falling off about 13%.

Ford Fusion will debut in Detroit.

The Fusion will compete at the Detroit show, as well as the marketplace, against DaimlerChrysler AG’s new ’06 Dodge Charger, which is bigger and built off the wildly successful LX platform that carries the Chrysler 300 sedan.

But the C-segment Fusion, which likely will be limited to volumes well below what of the Taurus over the last decades, is as much a harbinger of things to come from Ford as it is a Camry or Charger beater.

Built off the Mazda6 platform developed in Japan under the leadership of then-Mazda Motor Corp. product chief Phil Martens, the Fusion is the first of as many as 10 vehicles to be spawned from the platform for sale in North America.

In addition to introducing Ford’s new signature 3-bar grille, the car is among the first to rest squarely on Martens’ shoulders as North American product chief.

Since taking the helm as North American group vice president in 2003, Martens has shepherded critical launches such as the Five Hundred family and the Mustang.

But he is best known for his influence in the creation of the Mazda platform, which now serves as the base architecture for a new generation of cars intended to populate Ford dealer showrooms. (See related story: Ford Names Martens Head of Product Creation)

Ford and Lincoln cross/utility vehicles, minivans, coupes and a convertible could be in the cards for the CD3 platform, as it is called in North America, with production slated for Oakville, Ont., Canada, and Hermosillo, Mexico, and possibly other U.S. plants capable of flexible manufacturing.

The Fusion will be built at Hermosillo alongside platform mates the Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr.

The auto maker fits the same 3L Duratec V-6 engine in the Fusion as powers the Five Hundred. In the Fusion, it is mated to a 6-speed transmission, making 210 hp, as opposed to the 200 hp it turns out in the Five Hundred. The Fusion also offers a base 2.3L 4-cyl. capable of 160 hp., which gives it a rating as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.

But while Martens says the Fusion’s powertrain combo is refined and packed with torque in the sweet spot of the acceleration curve, it fails to meet the challenge posed by Dodge’s brawnier Charger, which will sport a 5.7L V-8 Hemi capable of 340 hp.

The Fusion’s design harkens back to the muscular 427 concept, which made a splash at the 2003 NAIAS. Unlike the rear-wheel-drive concept, the production vehicle is front-wheel drive.

In order to accommodate Ford’s diverse needs for the platform and offer needed breathing room in the cabin, the CD3 chassis is stretched 1.2 ins. (3 cm) wider and 2.2 in. (5.5 cm) longer than the Mazda3 and boasts 12.7% higher torsional rigidity.

The B-pillar, C-pillar and rear door is pushed back from the front compartment, enabling more legroom in fore and aft.

Pricing is not yet announced, but the auto maker plans three trim packages in addition to the pair of powertrain options.