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By Amy Wilson
Automotive News / January 04, 2004

Mercury will get a new sport wagon.

Lincoln Mercury President Darryl Hazel confirmed that a crossover vehicle is in Mercury's future product cycle. It would be based either on the 2005 Ford Freestyle sport wagon, which is coming to showrooms this fall, or on a planned Mazda6-based sport wagon, which is expected to arrive in the second half of 2006.

"We're still evaluating," Hazel said.

Since development work is largely complete on the Freestyle, it seems Mercury could get its crossover to market quicker if that were chosen as the foundation. Ford Motor Co. will start production of the Freestyle and its related sedan models, the Ford Five Hundred and the Mercury Montego, at its Chicago assembly plant late this year. The company is planning to build about 125,000 of each of the Ford models, plus another 35,000 Montegos.

Executives have touted the versatility of the revamped Chicago assembly plant. Volume can be quickly adjusted to meet market demand for each model -- or perhaps to accommodate a second Mercury model at the plant.

Right now the Mazda6-based sport wagons -- one is planned for Ford and one for Lincoln -- are expected to be assembled at Ford's Atlanta assembly plant beginning in August 2006. Both the Chicago and the Atlanta assembly plants currently produce Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable models. But the longtime mid-sized stalwart of the Ford stable will be dropped in favor of the Five Hundred and the smaller Mazda6-based Ford Futura sedan.

The new sport wagon would be among five new or redesigned Mercurys slated for the showroom during the next four years. Others include the Montego; the Mercury Mariner, a version of the Ford Escae; and a Mercury version of the Ford Futura.

Mercury is not planning to transfer its Mountaineer nameplate to the new sport wagon, one insider said. Though the Ford Explorer-based Mountaineer is expected to undergo significant changes for its next generation, it will remain on a truck platform, the source said.
 
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