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Ford's rwd cars roll down Fleet St.

Amy Wilson

Automotive News | August 27, 2007 - 12:01 am EST

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is pushing the big rear-wheel-drive cars built on its aging Panther platform further into fleet status in the 2008 model year.

Sales for that trio of cars -- the Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis -- increasingly have been weighted to fleet buyers such as taxi companies and police departments. But with the 2008 model year:

Dealers no longer will be able to order retail units of the Crown Victoria. Retail units could be ordered during the 2007 model year, but dealers did not put in those orders, a Ford spokesman said.

The Town Car will become primarily fleet when Ford resumes production in January at its St. Thomas, Ontario, plant. Town Car production has been on hiatus since May, when Ford's Wixom, Mich., assembly plant closed. Dealers still will be able to order retail Town Cars, but trim levels and packages will be reduced.

There is no change with the fleet status of the Mercury Grand Marquis, which had 55 percent fleet sales for the 2007 model year.

"Our dealers right now are focused on rebuilding the Lincoln brand with modern vehicles," Ford spokesman Jim Cain said. "They've had good success with the MKZ and the MKX, and the MKS has tremendous potential."

The MKS arrives as Lincoln's new flagship sedan next spring.

Dealers are happy the Town Car is continuing, said Bob Tasca Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Mercury national dealer council. But he notes inventories will be tight until the 2008 model arrives early next year.

"I'm down to about a handful of Town Cars," said Tasca, president of Tasca Automotive Group in Cranston, R.I. "I'll probably be out of them by the end of September."

Suppliers and industry analysts expect that volumes of the Panther-based vehicles will continue to shrink. Ford sold 156,959 in 2006. One supplier said Ford has indicated volume could drop to 100,000 in around 2009.
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