Ford Motor Co. begins production of the ’08 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner cross/utility vehicles at its Kansas City Assembly Plant.

The redesigned CUVs are scheduled to go on sale in the first quarter.

The ’08 Escape XLS with an inline 4-cyl. engine will start at $19,245, including $665 destination and delivery.

The XLT V-6, which accounts for more than half of Escape sales, will be priced at $22,545. A gasoline-electric hybrid version will sticker at $25,740.

Ford says pricing for the ’08 Escape will average $1,100 less than for ’07 Escape models. Mercury Mariner will start at $21,395, including $665 destination and delivery. The Mariner Hybrid, which for the first time will be offered in front-wheel drive, will begin at $26,430.

Ford says ’08 Mariner base prices will average $1,300 less than for ’07 models.

Both the ’08 Escape and Mariner boast improved 36-month residual vales, which are up 11 points compared with previous models and ahead of major competitors, Ford says.