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Old 08-04-2003, 08:24   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Lincoln to kill Aviator SUV as early as '05, suppliers say

By AMY WILSON | Automotive News

DETROIT -- Lincoln will drop the truck-based Aviator SUV as early as 2005, say two suppliers working on the program.

The Aviator, on the market for nine months, has sold poorly and has been viewed as a clone of the Ford Explorer.

The SUV will be replaced in the Lincoln lineup by a new sport wagon produced on the Mazda6 platform beginning in August 2006. The suppliers say production of the Aviator is scheduled to stop at the end of the 2005 model year.

But the exact timing of the Aviator's demise still is being determined, say supplier and company sources. The Aviator is assembled at Ford Motor Co.'s St. Louis assembly plant, which Ford has targeted to close by mid-decade. St. Louis also assembles the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.

Ford officials wouldn't comment on the Aviator's fate.

But a Ford source acknowledged that the existing truck-based SUV won't be needed after the new 2007 sport wagon debuts. That sport wagon, to be built in Oakville, Ontario, is designed to fight vehicles such as the Lexus RX 330 and Infiniti FX45.

While the Aviator looks much like the Explorer, the company invested heavily for new Aviator parts, such as a different instrument panel. About half of the Aviator's parts are new. So even though the company paid generously for new parts, a top Ford executive says, it still failed to differentiate the Aviator from the Explorer.

The Aviator's high price is a problem. The Navigator starts at $49,050; the Aviator starts at $39,995 but can reach more than $54,000.

In the first seven months of 2003, Lincoln sold 15,164 Aviators. It had planned full-year sales of up to 35,000 in 2003.
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Old 08-05-2003, 07:44   #2 (permalink)
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Ford to ground its Lincoln Aviator in '05

Loss is another blow to troubled automaker
August 5, 2003

BY JEFFREY MCCRACKEN
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Lagging demand and lagging prices have converged to bring a hasty demise for Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Aviator midsize sport-utility vehicle in 2005, say sources at Ford, the UAW and an interior supplier to the Aviator.

Ford had previously told suppliers to expect full-year sales of 35,000 or more, but through the end of July only 15,164 Aviators were sold. It was just introduced in November and the price for it has dropped nearly $4,000 since then, according to the automotive-pricing Web site Edmunds.com.

The end of the Aviator -- the so-called Baby Navigator -- would be yet another setback for Ford, which is fighting to reverse a $6.4-billion loss in 2001-02. The Aviator would join other high-end, low-volume disappointments like the Lincoln Blackwood luxury sport-utility pickup and the Ford Thunderbird.

The Aviator, a luxury midsize SUV priced between $39,000 and $54,000, was supposed to fit into Ford's lineup between the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Navigator. Auto analysts say it is getting squeezed out by crossovers like Toyota's Lexus RX330, the BMW X5, and the XC90, which is made by Ford's Volvo unit.

"It's not a bad vehicle at all, but it's just not priced right," said Jesse Toprak, senior manager of vehicle pricing at Edmunds.com. "It needs to be in the low-to-mid thirties to draw consumers. At the $40,000 Ford wants, people will go for a larger SUV."

The Aviator's demise is another nail in the coffin for the St. Louis Assembly plant, which builds the Aviator but has been on Ford's to-close list since the automaker revealed a massive cost-cutting plan in January 2002.

A UAW official at the plant who asked not to be named said he's been told Ford will stop making the Aviator in early 2005 and the plant, in Hazelwood, Mo., will close later that year. The plant also makes the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.

"If they were really happy with how this Aviator was doing they could make it at the Louisville Assembly plant or the new Dearborn truck plant, but they don't see the need for that since its sales are struggling," said Michael Wall, auto production analyst at CSM Worldwide, an auto-analysis firm based in Farmington Hills.

Ford officials wouldn't comment on the Aviator's future except to note the Aviator had its second-best sales month in July, with sales of 2,692.

"We are very enthusiastic about the Aviator and the month it just had. It's also bringing people into dealerships," said Sara Tatchio, a Ford spokeswoman.

She noted sales of the Lincoln Navigator -- the SUV priced and sized just ahead of the Aviator -- are up 32.2 percent this year.

Ford will likely replace the truck-based Aviator with some type of Lincoln sports wagon built off the Mazda 6 platform at the Oakville, Ontario plant, say sources familiar with Ford's product-development plan.

That wagon will be a slightly larger version of the Ford Freestyle sports wagon that will be built at the Chicago assembly plant. It will go on sale in late 2006 or 2007, say those sources.

Citing Ford suppliers, Automotive News also reported the Aviator's demise this week.
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Old 08-07-2003, 00:18   #3 (permalink)
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The Car Connection

Aviator Death Notice Premature?

Reports of the death of Lincoln’s Aviator have been greatly exaggerated, insisted Ford Motor Co. COO Nick Scheele, during a discussion with reporters in Traverse City. In recent days, numerous news stories have indicated that Lincoln’s mid-size luxury sport-ute will be pulled from production in 2005, a victim of weak sales. But such reports are “premature,” said Ford COO Nick Scheele, quickly substituting the word, “wrong.” MBS keynote speaker, Scheele stressed “We have taken no such decision on Aviator,” insisting that after a slow start, sales have begun picking up. Through June, he reported, Lincoln has sold about 13,000 of the SUVs, nearly half the 30,000 target for all of 2003. Scheele, meanwhile, countered concerns that Lincoln has lost its direction. Last spring, he told TheCarConnection the luxury brand was rethinking its entire product program following its pull-out from Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. The new lineup is “impressive,” Scheele said, denying that the American luxury unit will simply rely on “badge-engineered” versions of products sold by other Ford divisions.
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