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Ford pins hope on new crossover

2006-10-18 07:39

Ford hopes new Edge crossover will be a big hit

Tom Krisher

By itself, the teardrop-shaped Ford Edge won't save Ford, but executives are hoping the new crossover vehicle will be a strong player in the company's bid to reverse its sales decline.

The five-passenger Edge, the latest entry into the crossover market, looks like a sleek new version of a sport utility vehicle, but like most crossovers, it is lighter, nimbler and more fuel efficient because it is built on car rather than truck underpinnings.

Ford executives say the Edge is crucial to the company's restructuring plan and to helping it reverse a market share slide from about 26% in 1995 to around 17% this year.

The company's sales have dropped 8.6% through September when compared to the first nine months of 2005, and it lost $1.4bn in the first half of this year.

In a webcast from San Francisco, where the Edge officially was unveiled on Monday, Ford's President of the Americas Mark Fields predicted that it would become a crossover icon, calling it a "no excuses product that's really going to set the benchmark for this segment."

Prices for the Edge will start around $26 000, including standard front and side air bags and roll stability control.

The front-wheel-drive version is expected to get petrol mileage similar to its competitors at 9.4 litres per 100km on the highway. The all-wheel-drive version is 9.8 litres.

Competitors include the Toyota Highlander, Chrysler Pacifica and Chevrolet Equinox.

Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting for JD Power and Associates, said the Edge is important to Ford, which will continue to lose sales numbers as it ceases production of the Taurus sedan this month.

Schuster said the Edge's body styling and other features should make it a solid performer in a growing segment of the market in which buyers are looking for SUV features with the gas mileage and handling of a car.

"I think the Edge is certainly the direction where the market is heading," he said. "That type of product, the segment and the body style, fits well into the shifts going on in consumer tastes, essentially the new family vehicle, the replacement to the traditional sedan."

While the Edge won't replace sales of the popular Taurus, it should settle in around 100 000 vehicles per year, Schuster said.

Ford expects to sell about 175 000 Tauruses this year.

Fields said Ford expects crossover vehicles to be the largest segment of the automotive market by the end of the decade. During the first nine months of the year, crossovers amounted to 12.8% of the total US light vehicle sales, according to Autodata.

Fields said the company has a lot riding on the Edge. In a company video earlier this month, he told members of his management team that it is key to Ford's success.

"This launch is absolutely crucial. If there's any product that has to deliver, this one has to be it," he said.

"The Edge is built on the Mazda 6 car platform, which has received acclaim for its crisp handling.

Schuster said the Edge, built in Oakville, Ontario, is another example of leaner manufacturing techniques that keep costs down by building several models on one platform.

The Edge's counterpart, the Lincoln MKX, as well as the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsize cars also are built on the Mazda 6 platform. Ford owns 33% of Mazda.

The Edge is due in US showrooms in November.

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