Ford Motor Co., in a comprehensive press conference at the New York Auto Show, announced that Lincoln will add the Zephyr, an entry-level luxury sedan, to its lineup in late 2005.and that about two years after the Ford Escape HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) goes on sale this summer, the Mercury division will get a hybrid version of the Mariner, an upscale version of the Escape. The front-drive Lincoln, with a probable MSRP price of $30,000, will be the smallest and least expensive model in the Lincoln showroom. Executives say Lincoln will continue to sell the larger rear-drive LS, whose base price is $32,755, including the destination charge. With the Zephyr, Lincoln marketers aim to capture younger buyers, especially those who haven't considered Lincoln in the past. Owners of vehicles such as the Acura TL, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35 and Lexus ES330 are target buyers. "Success is new customers," Lincoln Mercury President Darryl Hazel said. "We have cars we can sell to the traditional customer." Lincoln revealed a concept version of the Zephyr on April 8 at the New York auto show. The exterior styling of the concept vehicle is very close to the look of next year's production car, executives say. The Zephyr will be introduced with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive will be available at some point after the vehicle launch. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine now under development at Ford also is likely to be added after the launch. Derived from Mazda6 underpinnings, the Zephyr is one of a trio of mid-sized sedans that Ford Motor Co. will introduce for the 2006 model year. The Zephyr and its Ford and Mercury siblings are the first of up to 10 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles being developed from the Mazda6. Ford stretched the Mazda6 platform to create a roomier interior for the new sedans. In addition to the sedans, Ford also will use the new platform, dubbed CD3, for a Ford sport wagon, the next-generation Lincoln Aviator sport wagon and for the company's next-generation minivans. The Escape HEV will be the first high-volume hybrid vehicle from the Big 3. General Motors is selling a mild hybrid pickup truck to fleet operators and Dodge plans to introduce a diesel-electric Ram pickup this fall. A mild hybrid uses the electric motor only as a booster, not to power the vehicle on its own. The Mariner hybrid will be a 2007 model. The 2005 Mariner goes on sale late this summer. Ford Motor Co. also says it plans to develop a third hybrid after 2006, a version of a yet-to-be named Ford Division mid-sized car that goes on sale next year.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials