IMAGE: Mercury Mariner Hybrid
Ford Motor
The Mercury Mariner Hybrid is rated at 33 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway — 50 percent better than its gas-only sibling.
msnbc.com
updated 7/11/2005 3:28:34 PM ET 2005-07-11T19:28:34

Ford Motor Company on Monday launched sales for its second gas-electric SUV, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, but unlike traditional strategies this one begins online for buyers.

"The majority of sales inquiries for the Mercury Mariner Hybrid are expected to be taken online with the assistance of 'Personal Sales Consultants' who will serve as the primary liaison between customers and dealerships," Ford said in a statement. "First come/first served real-time consumer demand will determine which dealers and customers receive the vehicles."

Some 2,000 Mercury Mariner Hybrids will be built for the 2006 model year, and volume will then grow to 4,000 a year, Ford said. The manufacturers suggested retail price is $29,840 and by early Monday afternoon 27 orders for the Mercury Mariner Hybrid had been placed online, Lincoln Mercury division spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said.

The MSRP is $4,190 more than a Mariner with a traditional engine and a luxury trim package, Tatchio said. The Mariner Hybrid is $7,800 more than a Mariner at the standard trim level, she added, but since the Mariner Hybrid has luxury features, that’s not an equal comparison.

Here's how Ford said the ordering will work: A potential buyer logs onto marinerhybrid.com, choosing options as well as a dealer in their area. An online consultant will then get a price quote from the dealer and provide the quote to the customer. The consultant will also answer questions and stay in touch until the vehicle is delivered.

Al Giombetti, president of Ford's Lincoln Mercury division, said the strategy is geared towards reassuring buyers given the often long wait for hybrids. "Buying a hybrid is a major commitment for many people and the time from order to delivery can be much longer than a typical vehicle," he said. "We want to make sure we stay close to each individual customer and make the experience a rewarding one."

Ford did not state when the first deliveries would be made.

Sierra Club on board
Ford also noted that the Sierra Club would be spreading the word about its SUV.

"We hope that helping to make the Mercury Mariner Hybrid a success will encourage Ford to invest in better technology to increase the fuel economy of its entire fleet," Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program, said in the Ford statement.

Becker said e-mail was going out Monday to 300,000 Sierra Club activists and that Ford would provide Mariner Hybrids for test drives at an upcoming Sierra Club conference. Ford is not paying for the e-mail, he added.

Aside from getting more miles from a gallon of gas, hybrids emit far fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases, which many scientists tie to global warming.

Not all environmental groups are satisfied, however. The Rainforest Action Network said it will run a newspaper ad in a few weeks targeting Ford for having the least fuel-efficient fleet of all the major automakers.

“While it’s encouraging that Ford is putting a second hybrid on the market, the production levels are so low that it will have no measurable impact on Ford’s bottom-of-the-barrel fleet-wide fuel efficiency or off-the-charts greenhouse gas emissions,” RAN director Michael Brune said.

Electric only at low speeds
The Mariner Hybrid is EPA-rated at 33 mpg/city and 29/mpg highway — nearly 50 percent higher than its gas sibling. And the electric drive from the hybrid allows for acceleration comparable to a V-6, Ford said.

The SUV also runs solely on electric power at speeds up to 25 mph and the gasoline engine shuts off at stoplights to conserve fuel and curb emissions.

IMAGE: OPTIONAL DISPLAY PANEL
Ford Motor
An optional display tracks the flow of energy between the gasoline engine and electric motor.
The Mariner Hybrid is the second of five hybrids announced by Ford. The first, the Ford Escape Hybrid, went on sale last fall and was named the North American Truck of the Year. Three others are planned over the next few years.

"Demand for our first hybrid was so strong that we pushed very hard to pull production of the Mercury Mariner Hybrid up by a full year," Mary Ann Wright, director of Ford Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Programs, said in the statement.

Mariner Hybrid standard features include 4WD, anti-lock brakes, front seat air bags, keyless entry, roof rack and a CD stereo system.

Options include a display that maps trips and shows how the hybrid system is using energy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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