12 mid-size cars for 2012

A little trash-talk has gotten the ball rolling for who will lead sales in the auto world's most popular segment. Game on.

Car Wars: Fusion vs. the field
Car Wars: Fusion vs. the field
Automakers -- at least in public -- generally treat their competitors in the most gentlemanly of ways. After all, picking a fight invites retaliation, and everybody has a weakness. That's why a brouhaha erupted last year when General Motors CEO Dan Akerson dissed Lincoln, and then again when Ford marketing chief Jim Farley directed a few (unpublishable) words at GM.

So it was with surprise that Ford kicked off this year's Detroit auto show by firing a couple of shots across the bows of Toyota and Honda. When it introduced the all-new mid-size Fusion, Ford noted that Camry and Accord, the longtime segment leaders, have seen their sales and market share fall dramatically since 2007 despite sharp increases in their incentives.

Ford uncharitably failed to note that industry sales overall have fallen dramatically over the same time period. But it effectively sounded the starting gun for a sales race in the industry's single largest passenger car segment, accounting for the sale of 1.8 million vehicles. In addition to the established Japanese leaders, Fusion will be fighting against an equally new Chevrolet Malibu and Volkswagen Passat. "With the three models all very new in the segment, success will be hard-fought even with all the praise Fusion is getting so far," says Edmunds.com's senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. Here are the contenders for the mid-size crown:

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor-at-large @FortuneMagazine - Last updated January 25 2012: 6:21 AM ET
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