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By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

CHICAGO - Ford Motor Co. and Harley-Davidson Motor Co. have agreed to extend their product partnership through 2007, the companies announced today.

The new deal will produce at least two new limited-edition Ford pickups bearing the Harley-Davidson badge, along with the brand's free-spirited attitude.

The companies' current agreement, forged in 1999, expires this year.

While the relationship benefits the motorcycle manufacturer by raising its profile and pumping an undisclosed quantity of cash into its saddle bags, Ford uses the association to keep its pickup truck offerings fresh.

To date, Ford has augmented F-Series sales by 40,000 Harley-Davidson derivatives.

"We've connected it to personal use," said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager, referring to a trend that has seen fewer and fewer buyers choose pickups primarily for work.

Orders for the 2004-model F-Series Super Duty are just over half the planned volume of about 9,000 units. Production began in November.

Sales of the new F-Series remain strong. Ford posted record January F-150 sales of 61,979 units, eclipsing the previous mark of 60,259 set in January 1999 and up 9.6 percent from sales recorded in January 2003.

The 2004 Harley-Davidson truck is "really striking a chord with the buyer," Scott said, noting it carries no incentives.

Ford is offering customers $2,500 in cash rebates for a regularly equipped Super Duty.

The partnership between Ford and Harley-Davidson is drawing new buyers to the Ford fold, including many consumers who don't own a Harley.

"The latest information that we have said it's about a 50/50 split," he said. "A lot of people thought, especially as we got into the whole partnership, that all the people buying these were all people who owned Harleys. But that's not the case at all. There's a lot of people who just love the look, as well as the association with Harley."

Harley-Davidson designers are involved in the development of the Ford trucks, said Steve Piehl, spokesman for the Wisconsin-based motorcycle company.

"The connection between motorcycles and pickup trucks works very well," he added. "We've had a tremendous amount of positive response from our customers."

Ford has also been involved in Harley-Davidson events, such as the motorcycle maker's centennial. It marked 100 years in business last year, as did Ford.

"We call it an alliance," Piehl said. "It's really a marketing partnership."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ford says the current truck, described by Scott as "a halo product," satisfies a long-sought customer demand: It's the first Harley-Davidson truck to feature four-wheel drive.

"The previous iterations of F-150 Harley products have all been two-wheel drive," Scott said. As a result, sales were skewed toward sunbelt states.

Expect future Harley trucks to feature Ford's new F-150 platform, as well as Super Duty configurations, Scott said.

The alliance has produced its share of surprises. Consider color choices.

Predictably, the '04 Ford Harley truck can be purchased in black, as well as two-tone black and gray. But it's also available in two-tone black and bright orange.

"The orange was quite controversial," Scott said. "That is stepping out there. We weren't really sure how that would go. But so far, that's the most popular color combination of the three that we offer."

Just over one third of consumer orders for the '04-model specify black and orange.
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