Ford Motor Co.'s decision to end Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest production two years ahead of schedule is expected to pave the way for a new “baby Econoline” van and potentially new cargo versions of Ford's full-size van, Ford sources say.

Ford and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. last week confirmed earlier reports in Ward's that joint production of the Villager and Quest will end with the '02 model year, two model years ahead of schedule. Nissan says it will have a new '03 minivan, which could be built at plants in either Mexico or Smyrna, TN. However, Smyrna likely will build the new minivan, as the next Altima (now produced at the plant) Maxima and Quest minivan are expected to share the same platform. Annual capacity at Smyrna is about 450,000. The plant currently runs at 325,000 units.

Meanwhile, Ford sources say that while the Villager is dead as a product coming out of Avon Lake, OH, the idea of retaining the Villager name as a mark in the Mercury lineup hasn't been decided.

Ford says the decision to end Villager/Quest production at Avon Lake shouldn't have any impact on the plant's 2,700 employees, as a new product is planned for that plant. One scenario being given serious consideration is having Avon Lake build all Club Wagon passenger vans, including a smaller van about the size of the old rear-wheel-drive Aerostar. Avon Lake workers currently paint all Econoline and Club Wagon bodies and then truck them across town to Ford's Lorain assembly plant.

Lorain then would be designated as Ford's “cargo van plant,” focusing on building Econolines and bringing in-house production of commercial vans for companies such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service. Ford currently supplies just the chassis and powertrain to such businesses that then have their vehicles built-to-order by other companies. Ford now wants to “batch build” such orders in the Lorain factory.