DETROIT - Ford Division President Steve Lyons is betting that the 2005 Ford Five Hundred will outsell the 2005 Ford Freestyle.
The Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle sport wagon, both derived from the same platform, go on sale in September.
Ford has said it will produce a combined 250,000 units annually. Initial production is skewed about 60 percent toward the Five Hundred, Lyons says.
That plan reinforces the importance of sedans in the Ford lineup, despite the growing sales numbers of sport wagons.
"A lot of people think it's the other way," he says.
But although sport wagons are growing in popularity, the introduction of a new sedan flagship will help boost sales even more in that segment, Lyons says.
With that split, sales of the Five Hundred would hit about 120,000 annually in the United States and 100,000 for the Freestyle, he says.
The remainder of both vehicles would be sold to commercial fleets and in Canada and Mexico.
Ford will not sell either vehicle to rental fleets. The aging Taurus will continue to be the Ford rental car of choice.
The Five Hundred and the 2006 Ford Fusion sedan, due about a year from now, eventually will replace the Taurus.
Five Hundred and Freestyle incentives haven't been finalized, but Lyons says they will be modest.
The Five Hundred's target customers are empty-nester baby boomers in their late 40s or early 50s, says Amy Marentic, marketing manager for both new vehicles.
Target Freestyle customers are Generation Xers, in their 30s with young children, she says. They are expected to come out of sedans, SUVs and minivans.
The front-drive vehicles offer all-wheel drive as an option. Ford expects an awd take rate of 40 percent for the Freestyle and nearly 20 percent for the Five Hundred.
Advertising will begin in October.
One challenge will be to overcome any perception that the Five Hundred and Freestyle are underpowered.
"We know (the engine) has a disadvantage on paper," says Ray Nicosia, vehicle engineering manager.
Ford says the available six-speed automatic and continuously variable transmissions maximize the performance of the 203-hp, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.