Ford taking Net orders for '06 Mariner

SUV is high-tech gas/electric hybrid

July 12, 2005|By Jim Mateja | Jim Mateja,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Ford Motor Co. began taking orders yesterday for its 2006 Mercury Mariner gas/electric sport utility vehicle via the Internet.

While Internet shopping is commonplace, buying a car online - without the ability to actually test drive it - is a novel approach for Ford.

"Those who buy hybrids are both high-tech oriented and high-tech capable and so the Mariner hybrid lends itself to Internet marketing," said Jim Hossack, vice president of AutoPacific, an automotive marketing and consulting firm.

"But while you'd think it would be good to have at least one demo on hand to drive, Mercury has come up with a new way to sell its vehicles and it will be interesting to see how successful they are," he said.

The SUV will not be shipped directly to a buyer's home. When an order is placed, the customer still must visit a dealership to make a deposit on the vehicle, which starts at $29,840, and handle any trade-in.

Mercury dealers will only get a Mariner hybrid when a consumer buys one. Interested buyers will be able to test drive gas-powered Mariners.

A list of certified dealers is at The site also provides details about the vehicle, from standard to optional equipment as well as prices. Interested buyers will be assigned a "personal sales consultant."

"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," said Al Giombetti, president of the Lincoln-Mercury division. "We want to make sure we stay close to each individual customer and make the experience a rewarding one."

Mercury spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said the "consultants" work at Ford's Dearborn, Mich., call center. They will answer questions, talk consumers through the ordering process and act as a liaison between consumer and dealer. The consultant will be in contact with the consumer via phone, e-mail or a chat room from order to delivery.

Tatchio said Mercury felt comfortable with the program because hybrid buyers do extensive research first and don't purchase on impulse, and because only 2,000 Mariner hybrids will be sold for the '06 model year.

"We're going to see how this goes and whether we have a chance to expand on it in the future," she said. Mercury is already planning to double the number of available hybrid Mariners - to 4,000 - for the 2007 model year.

In 2005, Mercury expects to sell about 34,000 of its standard Mariners. The SUV is the second of five hybrids coming from Ford by 2008.

The first, the Ford Escape hybrid, went on sale last fall. Ford plans to build 20,000 copies and said demand is so strong all of those will be sold. Still to come are the hybrid Mazda Tribute SUV from Ford's Japanese partner, perhaps in 2007, and hybrid versions of the midsize Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans in '08.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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