AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2 The “Drive on Us” program, which runs through July, is designed to clear out 2006 model Fords before the new model year. It’s a significant move away from Ford’s stated goal of lowering incentives and could force the competition to follow suit. The new deal comes as analysts expect Ford to announce lackluster sales for May, marking another month of declining revenues and shrinking U.S. market share. Ford’s U.S. market share slid to 18.5 percent through April from 19.2 percent a year earlier and has declined annually since 1995. The new incentive program provides every Ford customer with a pre-paid MasterCard debit card that can be used to purchase up to $1,000 worth of gasoline, diesel or E-85 fuel, a blend of gasoline and ethanol. Those who buy larger trucks or SUVs will get a card worth $1,100. Ford says that, assuming gas costs $2.91 a gallon, that should be enough to pay for 6,000 miles of driving half of what the average American drives in a year. The debit card can be used for other purchases as well. Though dealers don’t get official word of the summer incentives until today, talk had already spread through the industry of such deals. Ford Motor Co. is launching one of the most aggressive incentive programs in its history today, offering new car buyers no-interest financing and free fuel for six months on almost all of its Ford brand models. In addition, Ford is also offering between $1,000 and $4,000 in cash rebates on several car and truck models, including the Focus compact car, Escape SUV and F-150 pickup. Buyers also can take an additional $1,000 rebate in lieu of the gas debit card. All told, the incentives could total more than $13,000 on a loaded Expedition SUV, according to an analysis by Edmunds.com, a car-shopping Web site. “That is probably some of the highest incentive spending we have seen in long time,” said Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds.com, noting that automakers typically offer zero-percent financing or cash rebates not both. “Incentives always help, but we’ve got a pretty good line right now the Escape, the Fusion, the Escape Hybrid, the Explorer Sport’s selling again, so we’re doing pretty well,” said Chris Sweeney, general sales manager of Vista Ford in Woodland Hills, in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “But we’re definitely looking forward to (this) morning, that’s for sure.” The zero-percent financing offer ranges from 36 months on popular vehicles like the Fusion and Escape Hybrid to 72 months for the Expedition. Only the Mustang GT and the high-end GT sports car are excluded from the promotion. Ford has not announced a similar program for its Mercury and Lincoln brands. For some vehicles, like the Expedition, Ford’s new incentive plan is more generous than last summer’s employee discount “friends and family” deal, particularly in light of rising interest rates. The incentive program, which will be offered nationwide, comes on the heels of last month’s offer by rival General Motors Corp. to cover part of the fuel costs for some customers in California and Florida. GM offered to cover the cost of gasoline over $1.99 a gallon for customers who purchased certain sedans and SUVs, but also required those customers to sign up for GM’s OnStar service, which costs $16.95 a month after the first year. Analysts said it would take a while to see how Ford’s new incentive program played out in the marketplace, but some said the automaker deserves high marks for its creative approach. “It’s an effort to break through the chatter,” said Mike Jackson, CSM Worldwide. “I don’t think it’s a bad way to go.” Jackson said that zero-percent financing is an “attractive hook” for many consumers, though he said many of those car and truck buyers end up opting for more traditional financing because it offers longer terms or because past credit problems preclude them from qualifying for the interest-free offer. He said that, while the debit card represents a novel approach, it does not cost the automaker anymore than more traditional incentives. “Drive on Us is going to set the pace for the industry this summer,” said Al Giombetti, Ford’s president of marketing and sales. “No matter what a customer is in the market for whether it’s cutting-edge hybrid technology, a fuel-efficient car or the most capable diesel or E-85 pickups you can buy we have an offer that’s simple, a great value and available nationwide.” “It’s got to be a good summer, because we need to sell some cars out here,” said Darwin Ribadeneira, general sales manager for Ford of Santa Paula. “I think it’ll be a good one, since Ford’s coming out with some very good cars now not like the ones they used to make.” — On the Net: Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!