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Lincoln to kill Aviator SUV as early as '05, suppliers say

By AMY WILSON | Automotive News

DETROIT -- Lincoln will drop the truck-based Aviator SUV as early as 2005, say two suppliers working on the program.

The Aviator, on the market for nine months, has sold poorly and has been viewed as a clone of the Ford Explorer.

The SUV will be replaced in the Lincoln lineup by a new sport wagon produced on the Mazda6 platform beginning in August 2006. The suppliers say production of the Aviator is scheduled to stop at the end of the 2005 model year.

But the exact timing of the Aviator's demise still is being determined, say supplier and company sources. The Aviator is assembled at Ford Motor Co.'s St. Louis assembly plant, which Ford has targeted to close by mid-decade. St. Louis also assembles the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer.

Ford officials wouldn't comment on the Aviator's fate.

But a Ford source acknowledged that the existing truck-based SUV won't be needed after the new 2007 sport wagon debuts. That sport wagon, to be built in Oakville, Ontario, is designed to fight vehicles such as the Lexus RX 330 and Infiniti FX45.

While the Aviator looks much like the Explorer, the company invested heavily for new Aviator parts, such as a different instrument panel. About half of the Aviator's parts are new. So even though the company paid generously for new parts, a top Ford executive says, it still failed to differentiate the Aviator from the Explorer.

The Aviator's high price is a problem. The Navigator starts at $49,050; the Aviator starts at $39,995 but can reach more than $54,000.

In the first seven months of 2003, Lincoln sold 15,164 Aviators. It had planned full-year sales of up to 35,000 in 2003.
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