DEARBORN – It’s no coincidence Ford Motor Co.’s in-house purveyor of high performance – the Special Vehicle Team, or SVT – is rethinking its role in the Ford universe. SVT is practically forced to retrench, given the fact that within a few months, it won’t have anything for sale again until 2006.

By second-quarter 2004, SVT officials confirm all of its three currently available products – the SVT Mustang Cobra, SVT F-150 Lightning and SVT Focus – will be out of production. The Cobra and Lightning will not reappear in the SVT portfolio until 2005 as ’06 models – and the Focus is banished from the lineup entirely as SVT initiates a move upmarket. (See related story: Ford Expanding Focus Range to Include “ST” Series)

SVT abandons entry level when Focus SVT ends production next year.

SVT marketing and sales manager Tom Scarpello says, “We will be out of the market with all three products,” by the end of second-quarter 2004. But certified SVT dealers, of which there are 600 nationally and 800 more certified to sell the SVT Focus, largely support the strategy, despite the fact it means the SVT section of their showrooms will be empty for more than a year.

SVT says the disappearance of all SVT vehicles simply is a temporary and unavoidable oddity of product-development orbits. The F-150 this year moved to an all-new platform, which means the SVT variant will take time to be developed, while the Mustang also moves to a completely new platform for the ’05 model year. (See related story: Harley-Davidson F-150 Precedes Next-Generation Lightning)

SVT’s new upscale initiative, underscored by dropping the Focus from its lineup, comes as rumors continue that SVT, which has sold just 135,000 vehicles in its 10-year existence, is seeking to justify its place in Ford’s cost-conscious corporate climate.

Scarpello counters by saying SVT’s 2003 sales of about 14,500 vehicles is its best-ever, and that a study of the equivalent advertising value of media coverage about SVT products pegs the return at $15 million-$20 million.

But Ford accountants may be asking for more tangible return on the SVT investment, perhaps prompting SVT’s strategy to turn its attention to more premium vehicles.

In a drive of SVT-tweaked prototypes here – none of which are yet green-lighted for production, say Scarpello and John Coletti, SVT’s chief engineer – the unit presents a Lincoln Navigator and a V-10 toting Mustang that could be envisioned as an upscale grand-touring coupe.

“The new SVT vehicles will be more extreme and more exclusive,” confirms Coletti, who says SVT now will focus on higher levels of performance and more differentiation from the standard vehicles on which SVT models are based.