NEW YORK – The blue oval will adorn a new, tall and roomy sedan it calls the Five Hundred – and it is not a Taurus replacement, Ford Motor Co.’s design chief says.

The look is “grownup Mondeo,” J Mays, vice president-design, says as the auto maker’s newest product is unveiled here.

It comes from the same architecture as the pending CrossTrainer tall wagon, but bears no DNA similarity, Mays tells Ward’s.

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The Five Hundred will be built in Chicago alongside the CrossTrainer. They were conceived as a pair and will be launched simultaneously in the second quarter of 2004. The plant has a capacity of 250,000 and its flexible body shop will allow a mix of the two products to shift easily and meet demand, says James O’Connor, Ford Div. president.

However, Five Hundred is a full D-segment car and not a Taurus replacement, Mays says of the roomy sedan that seats five adults – three in a second-row bench. Taurus, in size, is a C/D segment, competing against Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat.

O’Connor says Taurus and Mercury Sable will be around for another three or four years, assembled in Atlanta, and could live on much longer given the brand equity in their names. “We make money with Taurus,” says O’Connor. “We made a lot last year.”

Toyota Avalon and Chevy Impala are considered Five Hundred’s competition.

It will not have a Mercury twin and there are no current plans for an SVT version. Nor has much thought been given to exporting the vehicle, which was designed with the North America market in mind, O’Connor says.

The Five Hundred won’t go after the next-generation of Chrysler large cars, as they will be rear-wheel drive. “So they’re not the same customers we’re going after,” Mays says. Ford sees no reason to expand its rear-drive car lineup – it can meet demand with the help of the many other brands under the corporate umbrella, including Lincoln and Jaguar.

Crown Victoria does not go away either, O’Connor stresses. Ford still sells about 100,000 annually: 40,000-45,000 to police departments, 20,000 for use as cabs and about 30,000 retail sales. He says Ford will continue to offer the largely commercial vehicle to retail customers, even if it is only small volumes.

The Five Hundred (the name harkens back to the Ford Galaxy 500 of the 1970s), gets a new version of the 3L Duratec V-6 engine that powers Taurus/Sable, Escape and others, and will be mated to a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission from ZF Batavia LLC in Batavia, OH.

The H point is 2 ins. to 4 ins. (5 cm to 10 cm) higher than a normal sedan for command seating. It will be positioned as near-luxury but with the value for which the Ford brand is associated, says Chris Theodore, vice-president-product development.

Mays says the car maker has “been criticized for not showing its hand on mainstream cars because it has been so focused on the living legends in recent years.” The Five Hundred counters such criticism.