Ford Motor Co. says it will expand its hybrid vehicle lineup with the addition of a hybrid Mercury Mariner cross/utility vehicle by 2006.

The Mariner disclosure is the third such announcement by Ford involving hybrid vehicles.

The hybrid Mariner will bow as an ’07 model and will employ much of the same technology found on Ford’s Escape Hybrid, which hits the market later this year. In addition to the Escape and Mariner, Ford is planning a hybrid version of the Mazda6 based Ford midsize sedan (formerly called Futura, a name Ford is abandoning because it is owned by tire retailer Pep Boys), which is due in 2005. (See related story: Ford Sees Limited Potential for Hybrid Sales)

Ford will launch a hybrid Mercury Mariner in 2006.

The hybrid sedan is scheduled to hit the market after the Mariner.

The Mariner’s hybrid system will be improved over the Escape, according to Mary Ann Wright, Escape Hybrid chief engineer and director-sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs. The company is currently working on its second-generation hybrid system, refining such things as battery weight. (See related story: Escape Hybrid Chief Named Ford’s Hybrid Director)

In 2005, Escape Hybrid’s first full year on the market, Ford will have capacity to build 20,000 hybrid vehicles at its Kansas City, MO, plant. Wright would not say whether Ford would boost hybrid capacity in 2006 to make room for the hybrid Mariner or if the Mariner would simply share that volume.

Much of the production plan will depend on how the market accepts the Escape Hybrid, she says.

Mercury will differentiate its hybrid by marketing it to “sophisticated consumers” who are looking for “sophisticated technology,” according to John Fitzpatrick, general marketing manager-Lincoln Mercury. He says the hybrid Mariner will bring in new customers.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com