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. earlier confirmed that joint production of the Villager and Quest would end with the '02 model year, two model years ahead of schedule. Nissan says it will have a new '03 minivan, which likely would be built in Smyrna, TN. The new Quest minivan as well as the next Altima (now produced at the plant) and Maxima are expected to share the same platform.

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. Although other company sources concede that if Mercury is to remake itself into a more hip division, Villager may not be a badge Mercury will want to retain.

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 there. One scenario calls for Avon Lake to build all Club Wagon passenger vans, including a smaller van about the size of the old rear-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 who then have their vehicles built-to-order by other companies. Ford now wants to "batch build" suchorders in the Lorain factory.

`It's About the Deal,' Author Says The initial gripe by retired DaimlerChrysler AG Co-Chairman Bob Eaton over the riveting new book, Taken For a Ride: How Daimler-Benz Drove Off with Chrysler (William Morrow), was about the title, Bill Vlasic says. A reporter at The Detroit News and a former Business Week correspondent, Mr. Vlasic co-authored the book, already in its third printing, with Bradley A. Stertz, an assistant managing editor also at The News (see book review, p.65). In the last conversation Mr. Vlasic expects to have with Mr. Eaton after 200 one-on-ones over the years, he tried to convince the former Chrysler chief that the title was not about him. "It's about the deal, but it can be taken in a lot of ways," Mr. Vlasic says.

Mr. Eaton's concern may surprise readers who find themselves dumbfounded to learn the introverted former engineer was given to public crying jags when confronted with his emotions. "I'll never forget when an executive said there was a meeting Bob Eaton cried at," Mr. Vlasic recalls. "I said, 'tell me about the meeting.' He said 'which one?'" At that point, Mr. Vlasic says, he threw all his other questions out the window. And how much cooperation did the authors get for the fly-on-the-wall retelling of the German side, featuring DC Chief Juergen Schrempp, whom the book is really about? Overall, sources on both sides were pretty candid, says Mr. Stertz, recalling one light moment when Mr. Schrempp turned to his top communications guy, Christoph Walther, and said: "Why aren't you doing this book?"

If he had it to do over, would Mr. Eaton sell Chrysler? "Yes," he tells Mr. Vlasic at their final interview in November. Says Mr. Vlasic: "I believe he believes it was the right thing to do."