SAN FRANCISCO – Ford Motor Co. expects to sell 100,000 units of its all-new Ford Edge cross/utility vehicle annually, says Jeri Ward, Edge marketing manager.

The 100,000-unit goal is realistic, considering Ford says 50,000 online “hand raisers” have expressed interest and the auto maker has 20,000 dealer orders for the new CUV.

Ward is confident the Edge will achieve its goal as the CUV market is heating up in the U.S. with more consumers leaving SUVs for vehicles with better fuel economy and a more car-like ride.

Ford predicts by 2010, the CUV segment will eclipse 3 million units. Ward’s AutoForecasts expects it to be the highest-volume sector in North America in terms of production by 2009.

Although the Edge faces plenty of competition in the segment, Ford is hoping its styling will draw in buyers.

“There are a lot of CUVs out there, and a lot more coming, but a lot of the CUVs are very wagon-like or are styled more like traditional SUVs,” Ward tells Ward’s at the Edge launch event here.

“The instant you see the Edge, you see how distinct it is,” she says.

In addition to its unorthodox styling cues, Ward says the Edge’s fuel-efficient 3.5L V-6 engine gives it a leg up in the market place.

A front-wheel-drive Edge will achieve 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the highway and 18 mpg (13 L/100 km) in city driving, while the all-wheel-drive version gets 24 and 17 mpg (9.8 and 13.8 L/100 km) highway/city, respectively.

Based on the CD3 (Mazda6-derived) platform, the 5-seat Edge will round out Ford’s CUV lineup, sandwiched between the Ford Escape and the 7-seat Freestyle, Ward says.

The wide array of CUVs offered by Ford gives consumers choice in the showroom, Ward says. “Some (consumers) desire the hyper functionality of the multiple seating configurations and seating for up to seven that the Freestyle provides,” she says. “There are other customers that want a 5-passenger CUV and the bold design you get with the fast angles and sportier design on the Edge.”

The Edge’s key competition is the Nissan Murano CUV, Ford says, which falls in the same price category.

Pricing has not been released on the Edge, scheduled to launch next month, but Ford promises a base, FWD model will sticker below $26,000. The AWD version will be priced less than $28,000.

Ford maintains the timing is right for the Edge. While there are many CUVs in the market, none have defined the segment the way the Ford Explorer defined the SUV segment and the Mustang defined the pony car niche, says Paul Mascarenas, vice president-product development-the Americas.

“We’ve not yet seen the iconic crossover,” Mascarenas tells Ward’s. “Consumer awareness is relatively limited at this point in time. We believe the Edge has the opportunity to take the leadership position.

“We believe the Edge is going to stand out in so many ways that we expect a high percentage of customer to be new to the Ford brand,” he says, adding Ford expects 45% of Edge sales to be conquest sales.