More stories related to Chicago Auto ShowCHICAGO – Ford Motor Co.’s “tweener” brand gets some much-needed attention at the Chicago Auto Show, as Mercury unwraps the ’06 Milan sedan.

The Milan, one of three domestic Mazda6-based vehicles bowing in second-half 2005, will come with a sub-$25,000 base price and is expected to reach 40,000 deliveries during its first full year on the market, Lincoln-Mercury President Darryl Hazel says. Some reports suggest Mercury will price the vehicle below $20,000.

Mercury sits between the volume Blue Oval and luxury Lincoln icon in Ford’s domestic brand triumvirate. Hazel told journalists at last year’s Chicago Auto Show to expect big things for Mercury’s future.

Mercury Milan

The auto maker makes good on its promise, unveiling the Milan here alongside a hybrid version of its Mariner cross/utility vehicle and the refreshed ’06 Mountaineer SUV, both due later in 2005. (See related story: Ford’s Upgraded Mid SUVs Address Nagging Concerns)

By 2006’s end, the Mercury family will include seven nameplates, with at least one more on the way as a Ford Freestyle derivative slated for Mercury in the ’07 model year.

Hazel says dealers will be looking at the fullest and most diverse lineup in Mercury’s long history.

Carrying either a 2.3L 4-cyl. engine or 3L V-6, the Milan fills a gap left by the 20-year-old Sable sedan’s departure following the ’05 model year. The Milan debuts alongside the Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr, which share the same CD3 architecture. (See related story: Fusion Headlines Ford’s 2005 Product Push)

The Milan hits the market with much of the same mechanicals as the Fusion, but with interior and exterior differentiation.

Ford’s North American Design Chief Peter Horbury calls the Mercury derivative’s exterior styling “architectural.” The interior picks up on some of the cues introduced in the ’05 Montego sedan and Mariner CUV and will be available in either a satin-aluminum or Wales Mahogany wood trim package.

The 4-cyl. Milan promises to boast fuel economy in the low 30-mpg (8 L/100 km) range, while the V-6 mated to an Aisin AW 6-speed automatic transmission should play in the high 20-mpg (12 L/100 km) range, Hazel says. A hybrid version joins the fold in 2008.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com