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By Amy Wilson
Automotive News / January 04, 2004

Ford Division is looking at dropping the Crown Victoria sedan from its retail lineup sometime after the new 2005 Ford Five Hundred sedan debuts this fall.

The company will make its decision during the next year to 18 months, Ford Division President Steve Lyons said. Either way, Ford will continue to produce it for fleet customers, Lyons said.

The Crown Victoria is built on the 25-year-old Panther platform. Ford long ago amortized much of the Crown Vic's development costs. Taxi companies, police departments and other fleet customers value the Crown Vic's rugged body-on-frame structure.

Ford sold 15,000 to 18,000 Crown Victorias to retail buyers last year. Fleet buyers purchased the rest of the 78,500 Crown Vics sold in 2003.

The front-drive Five Hundred, with its all-wheel-drive option and a roomy interior, will appeal more to retail buyers, Lyons said. In fact, Ford will limit sales of the Five Hundred and its sibling, the 2005 Ford Freestyle sport wagon, to retail customers for the first six to 12 months.

That is a marked departure from Ford's sales approach for its mid-size Taurus. Fleet sales for the Taurus “go overboard at 50 percent-plus” of total production, Lyons said. Lyons said he would be surprised if fleet customers account for more than 10 percent of the Five Hundred and Freestyle's long-term sales.

Ford will produce about 250,000 Five Hundreds and Freestyles annually at its Chicago assembly plant. Volume initially will be split evenly between the two vehicles.

Ford Division is targeting sales of about 3 million vehicles in 2004. Lyons said the division should increase retail sales by about 150,000 during the year and lower fleet sales by about 50,000 vehicles.
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