Changing strategy, Ford announced that the C-Max compact minivan will be the car company's first dedicated hybrid line when it goes on sale in North America next year as a gas-electric hybrid.

The automaker will not be offering the gas-only version of the C-Max in North America, as it had earlier announced.

Ford originally said it would produce a gasoline version of the five-seater here, as well as a gas-powered, seven-seat Grand C-Max. But neither will be offered in this market. The automaker has already sold more than 100,000 gas and diesel versions of the five-seater in Europe. Those models are built in Spain.

The strategy switch means the C-Max will be akin to Toyota's Prius hybrid-only line.

"Customers appreciate a dedicated body style for electric vehicles," Jim Farley, group vice president of sales, service and marketing, said during an event at Ford's Van Dyke Transmission plant.

Honda learned the hard way with its Civic and Accord hybrids that customers wanted their hybrids to look different than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Farley said American car buyers quickly changed their priorities as gas prices hovered near $4 a gallon over the past 120 days. "We are seeing a huge appetite for fuel-efficient vehicles in the last quarter," he said. The importance of vehicles with good fuel economy continues to increase as the top reason for purchase here, Farley said, citing research from Kelley Blue Book.

The strategy shift of dropping the gas version "shows how flexible Ford is," Farley said. "We can change with market conditions in North America."

Although he said it's too early for Ford to reveal mileage estimates for the C-Max hybrid line, it will offer "a lot more" than the Ford Fusion Hybrid's 41 miles per gallon. Farley also declined to discuss pricing for the C-Max hybrids, but said he's "very excited about its value pricing," which is possible because the model was developed as a global platform.

In addition to the Fusion Hybrid, Ford also sells the Ford Transit Connect Electric van, Escape Hybrid SUV and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sedan. Ford now sells some 35,000 electrified vehicles annually. The Focus Electric also goes on sale later this year.

Farley said the automaker's annual tally of electrified vehicle production would jump to more than 100,000 a year by 2013. "We'll have five electric vehicles on sale by the end of 2012."

Both the C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will be made in Michigan. Farley said Ford would export the C-Max hybrids to Europe.

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Jean Halliday is a seasoned journalist with the nation's longest consecutive run covering auto advertising. Her years in the trenches include stints at Automotive News, Adweek and Advertising Age. The native New Yorker now lives outside the Motor City. You can read Jean's blog at AutoAdOpolis.wordpress.com.

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