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How Do You Kick the Digital Tires?

That’s what I’m wondering since Ford plans to sell its second hybrid, the 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, primarily online. I understand the reluctance of devoting valuable dealership space to slow-moving inventory. And I’m all for American automakers getting out of their rut and trying something new. But this seems like an idea that’s ahead of its time.

We’re still in the early years of hybrids, and although sales nearly doubled last year, they represented less than one percent of the 17 million new vehicles sold. Most Americans haven’t been behind the wheel of one. No wonder there are so many misconceptions, starting with the notion that all hybrids need to be plugged in (false). What are the chances that consumers will order a $30,000 Mariner Hybrid off the Internet without so much as a test drive? Just a hunch, but I’d say they’re not good. I fear that Ford is undermining its R&D efforts and will scale back its hybrid program, citing disappointing sales. I just hope I’m wrong.

CS