Ford Unveils Mercury Mariner Hybrid
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Ford Motor Co.'s second gas-electric vehicle, received its ceremonial launch at the Claycomo plant Wednesday.
The Mariner Hybrid sport-utility vehicle, Mercury's version of the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV also built in Claycomo, actually began production last month. Earlier this year, Ford began shifting Mariner production to the local plant from one of its Ohio facilities.
Ford also moved up the production of the Mariner Hybrid by one year because demand for the gas-electric version of the Escape has been so strong, said Nancy Gioia, the automaker's director of sustainable mobile technologies and hybrid vehicle programs. Gioia said September was the best sales month ever for the Escape Hybrid, selling more than 1,800 units.
Ford plans to build 4,000 Mariner Hybrids and 20,000 Escape Hybrids in 2006, a fraction of the compact SUVs built at Claycomo. Through October, the plant has produced 231,296 of the small SUVs.
"As customer demand grows, then we'll adjust our production," Gioia said.
Ford and General Motors Corp. have suffered losses recently as public demand for their most profitable vehicles, gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs, have declined sharply with the rise in gasoline prices.
Last month, Ford announced it will be closing more plants to eliminate excess capacity.
But the same forces have propelled momentum in Ford's hybrid program as recent spikes in gas prices fueled greater public interest in alternatives to the gasoline-powered vehicle.
The Claycomo plant remains the only Ford facility building hybrids, but the automaker plans to introduce three more hybrid models in the next three years. Ford has set the goal of producing 250,000 hybrid vehicles in a variety of models by 2010.
The Mariner Hybrid's estimated fuel economy is 33 miles a gallon in the city and 29 miles a gallon on the highway, comparable to the Escape Hybrid's four-wheel-drive model but lower than the Escape's front-wheel-drive model. The Mariner Hybrid's suggested retail price is $29,840, a littler higher than the Escape Hybrid.
Production and delivery of the Mariner Hybrid has been smooth as dealers around the country started receiving them in late October, said Tom Brewer, general marketing manager for Lincoln and Mercury. About 80 have reached Mercury showrooms.
He said the Mariner, along with other recently introduced Mercury products, is intended to bring a new type of customer to that nameplate.
"The average age of the Mariner customer is 14 years younger than the typical Lincoln-Mercury buyer," Brewer said. Fifty percent of Mariner buyers are female, he said, compared with 30 percent for other Lincoln-Mercury vehicles.
Gioia also noted that the Internal Revenue Service has certified that buyers of 2006 Escape and Mariner hybrids are eligible for the clean-burning fuel deduction. The tax deduction ranges from $1,950 to $2,650 depending on the vehicle bought, she said.
Gioia was appointed head of Ford's hybrid program on Nov. 1. She succeeded Mary Ann Wright, who resigned at the end of last month. Wright received much recognition in the industry for her role in successfully bringing the Escape Hybrid to the market.
Wright was one of several high-profile executives to recently leave the beleaguered automaker, but one industry analyst said it should not slow Ford's progress in developing hybrid vehicles.
"It's a tough era right now, but organizations like Ford are pretty deep in talent," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. "I don't think Ford's hybrid program will miss a beat."
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News