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Old 02-08-2005, 06:55   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford struggling to catch up with demand for all-wheel drive equipped vehicles

Ford struggling to catch up with demand for all-wheel drive equipped vehicles

AMY WILSON | Automotive News

Ford Motor Co. underestimated the market's appetite for all-wheel drive.

Demand for awd versions of the Ford Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle sport wagon and Mercury Montego sedan is outstripping supply.

And the automaker can't turn up production quickly at its Chicago assembly plant because Swedish supplier Haldex AB has limited capacity to produce Ford's awd transfer cases.

"We can't build enough all-wheel drives and high series," says Ford Division President Steve Lyons.

All-wheel drive is an increasingly popular option. Newer awd entries include the Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Cadillac STS.

Ford Division expected 15 percent of Five Hundred models to sell with awd. But since going on sale in September, the sales rate has been 25 percent.

Lyons says he has a 40-day supply of awd Five Hundreds, compared with a 70-day supply for front-wheel-drive versions.

Ford expected 40 percent of Freestyle buyers to choose awd, but the actual rate is 55 percent. Mercury expected 30 percent of Montego buyers to choose awd, but the actual rate is 34 percent.

Dealers want more awd cars.

"It's nearly impossible to get a retail order scheduled for all-wheel-drive," said Martin Gubbels of Big Sky Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Torrington, Wyo.

In some cases, Ford's regional sales personnel have told dealers they can get an awd model if they take a handful of fwd vehicles, Gubbels said.

Ford spokesman Dave Reuter said that's not a nationwide practice.

"Clearly we have to give something to the dealers," Reuter said. "If we don't have enough all-wheel drives, you have to give them a front-wheel drive or give them nothing. You can imagine what our preference is."

All-wheel drive is a $1,700 stand-alone option.

Through January, Ford sold 36,510 Five Hundreds, Freestyles and Montegos.
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