Ken Grody says quality is one of the key reasons his dealership in Carlsbad, Calif., is selling a lot of Ford Fusions. He has noticed that Fusion customers rarely come in with service problems and believes that’s driving sales.

"People come in to change the oil and that’s about it, and the word is starting to get out," he said. "For us, the Fusion is really beginning to establish a beachhead against the imports."

To the north in New Brunswick, Ontario, Dave Emerson, owner of Riverview Ford, is experiencing similar customer feedback.

"We never see them in the shop," he said. "Once we sell them, they just don’t come back for repairs. The quality has been excellent."

Beyond anecdotal evidence on quality from dealers, Ford corporate research shows that the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr had the best quality showing of any vehicle in Ford’s long history.

Ford’s year-end Global Quality Research System survey (GQRS) shows the three mid-size sedans have the lowest number of Things Gone Wrong (TGW) for any of the company’s first-year vehicles. They also outpaced former segment leaders, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

"That is exceptional for a start-up," said Enrique Delannoy, assistant chief engineer for the program. "In most vehicles at the beginning of a program, the quality tends to suffer, but with the Fusion, Milan and Zephyr, we’ve been at the top of the segment right from the very beginning. It’s a real testament not only to our launch team engineers but to everyone at the plant in Hermosillo, as well."

According to the GQRS, the Milan had 1,149 TGW and the Fusion had 1,172 TGW, just behind the Dodge Stratus with 1,066 and the Chevy Malibu with 1,073 and ahead of the Toyota Camry with 1,193 and the Honda Accord with 1,353. The rankings reflect things gone wrong per 1,000 vehicles at three months service.

In the mid-size luxury class, the Lincoln Zephyr had 1,119 TGW, second only to the Lexus 330 with 943.

The number of warranty repairs for mid-size entries also set a company record. With an average of 116 repairs per 1,000 vehicles after three months in service, the Fusion and Milan registered the lowest retail warranty repair rate of any Ford vehicle ever sold.

Warranty numbers for Powertrain are just as impressive. The Fusion and Milan are averaging 16.5 repairs per 1,000 vehicles and the Zephyr is averaging 16.3 repairs per 1,000, the lowest levels ever achieved at Ford.

"We’re exceptionally excited, but not surprised," said Fusion launch manager Kate Pearce.

"The team that created those vehicles from concept to production has been relentless in making sure that every component used was the best quality. Those results are not an accident."

Along with the JD Power APEAL award for design, Fusion was recognized by Smart Money and Consumers Digest for best value and <I>Parent Magazine</i> as the best family car. Pearce and the launch team point to the Strategic Vision Total Quality Award given to the Fusion for best quality in the hotly contested medium-size category. The Milan came in second.

"It’s funny how the quality story never gets told," said Art Spinella , the president of CNW Marketing Research, a consulting firm in Bandon, Ore., that tracks auto industry trends . "I don’t care which survey you look at, they all say the same thing. While Toyota and Honda continue to make improvements, other automakers like Ford are moving at a faster pace and, in many cases, they now offer better vehicles."

While the GQRS numbers and the growing trophy case of awards are important, Spinella

says the only real way the story of Ford quality will get out to the public is through word-of-mouth, and that takes time.

"We’ve done a lot of research on the word-of-mouth issue, and we’ve found it’s the only message that consumers truly believe, and that doesn’t happen overnight," he said. "Enough people have to buy the car in the first place before they can spread the word."

In the meantime, the Fusion launch team says it’s working to give consumers something else to talk about.

"We want those vehicles to be best in their segment," said Jim Saad, the leader of the Fusion Quality Process team, who added, "We are so close."

It’s that mentality that Pearce says is being passed on to other Ford products, including the Edge and the new Focus.

"The Fusion, Milan and Zephyr are just the first ones," she said. "From now on, everything else will be held to the same standard. This is just the beginning."

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