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Ford Announces Compact Lincoln SUV, the Aviator; Mercury's Future in Doubt

August 19, 2001

Ford Motor Co. said on Aug. 19 that it will build an luxury compact sport utility vehicle for its upscale Lincoln brand, to be called the Aviator.The Aviator, which will go on sale next year as a 2003 model, will extend Lincoln for the first time into the compact SUV category, one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry."It's a segment that's very large. It's going to be a very distinctive vehicle. It's also going to be a very practical vehicle," Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, here for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance classic luxury car show, told reporters.The V8-powered Aviator will be smaller than the Lincoln Navigator full-size sport utility vehicle and is expected to be built off the same platform as the new Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles.Ford said it would release more details about the Aviator at an auto show next year. The Aviator is expected to compete against Toyota Motor Corp.'s RX300 SUV and a new compact SUV from General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac to be launched in 2003.Analysts question why Ford would need the Aviator, the Explorer and the Mountaineer, raising speculation that Ford will eventually kill its Mercury brand, despite repeated denials from Ford officials.Most Mercury dealerships are paired with Lincoln in the United States. Ford stopped selling Mercury in Canada a few years ago. General Motors Corp. announced plans last December to kill its Oldsmobile brand, and DaimlerChrysler AG stopped producing Plymouth-brand vehicles this summer.Mercury's U.S. sales dropped 18 percent last year, and are off 23 percent through the first seven months this year. Analysts say the brand has trouble attracting younger buyers, and its best-selling product, the aging Mercury Grand Marquis large car, has an older base of support.
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