DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is taking a 0 percent financing promotion for its hybrid vehicles national.
Starting Thursday, customers buying a Ford Escape Hybrid or a Mercury Mariner Hybrid can finance the vehicles with Ford Motor Credit Co. at 0 percent for 60 months. Ford launched the 0 percent incentive in California and Washington, D.C., in March.
The national 0 percent program will run through July 5. Instead of 0 percent, customers also could choose a $500 down payment-matching incentive available on the hybrids.
The 0 percent program helped boost Ford's hybrid sales in California and Washington in March, Ford spokesman Monte Doran said. That gain was an impetus to taking the program national.
Ford is spending more to advertise and discount the Escape Hybrid this year. Sales have been slower than expected in some parts of the country, dealer and other sources have said.
Part of the problem, Ford admits, is that large incentives on the gasoline-powered Escape make the price boost to the hybrid larger than intended.
The automaker originally planned for a $3,000 price premium on the Escape Hybrid. But the gap between that and conventionally powered Escapes has been closer to $5,000 or $6,000, given rebates of as much as $3,000 on the standard model. The gasoline-powered Escape also is available at 0 percent financing for 60 months.
"Once you start incentivizing the regular Escape, it changes the price equation," Doran said. "So as part of our commitment to make hybrids affordable and take them mainstream, we thought this was a necessary step in that process."
Ford will promote the 0 percent incentive and an Escape Hybrid TV commercial featuring Kermit the Frog in a full-page ad Friday in USA Today.
The TV commercial has Kermit "hosting" the April 9 edition of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." He will give an Escape Hybrid to a Texas family that also is getting a renovated house. Kermit first appeared for Ford in a Feb. 5 Escape Hybrid Super Bowl commercial.
Through March, Ford Escape Hybrid sales fell 2.6 percent from 2005 to 3,475 units. But including the Mariner Hybrid, which went on sale last fall, Ford Motor's total hybrid sales were up 7.3 percent in the first quarter of 2006.
Ford this week announced a new hotline that dealers can call to obtain up-to-date information about any federal, state or local tax incentives available in their markets to buyers of hybrid vehicles. According to Ford, those incentives can range from $1,950 to $6,350 in tax credits. That top number of $6,350 is available in West Virginia, Ford says.
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