DETROIT - Ford Division will keep the Escort in its lineup even after the new Focus goes on sale this fall.
The division is keeping two small cars because U.S. Escort sales are strong and the dual-car strategy works in Europe, said Robert Rewey, Ford Motor Co. group vice president of marketing, sales and service.
However, Mercury will end production of the Tracer subcompact July 9.
In the 2000 model year, the Escort sedan will be offered in a single trim level rather than LX and SE versions, Rewey said. The ZX2 sport coupe will remain in the lineup; the Escort station wagon will be dropped, he said.
The price of the Escort is likely to drop to avoid price competition with the Focus. Currently, the Escort sedan carries an $11,920 base sticker, including destination charge. Focus prices have not been announced.
The Focus, which is scheduled to arrive in showrooms Oct. 1, will be available in three-door, sedan and station wagon versions.
In June, Ford will end Escort production in Wayne, Mich., to retool for the Focus. Escort production will be consolidated in Ford's assembly plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, which already builds the model.
Ford would not say how many Escorts will be built for the United States or how long the car will remain in production.
In 1998, Hermosillo built a total of 138,616 Escorts and Tracers. The Escort ranked fifth in U.S. car sales last year at 291,936 units.
Ford is selling the Escort and Focus side-by-side in Europe successfully, Rewey said. In addition, Escort sales remain brisk this year. Sales were up 7.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.
The 1999 total includes record-setting ZX2 sales in March of about 9,800 sales, Ford said.
Continuing Escort sales will help Ford meet federal standards for corporate average fuel economy.
In addition, Ford Division may be hedging its bets. The Focus is more radically styled than the Escort, and some industry observers wonder whether Americans will accept the look.
Mercury will drop the Tracer because it no longer fits the brand's product strategy, said Mark Hutchins, Lincoln Mercury president.
'We've got to come out with a personality for Mercury,' Hutchins said. The Tracer does not help create a strong brand image, he said.