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DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. set a base price of $16,595 for its 1999 Mercury Cougar, with an optional V6 engine pushing the price to $18,495.

The sport coupe is assembled at the AutoAlliance International assembly plant, which Ford shares with Mazda Corp., in Flatrock, Mich. The first 1999 production models rolled off the line last Monday.

The Cougar uses engine and chassis components from Ford's Contour and Mercury Mystique models, which lets the automaker produce the car with existing hardware to cut costs.

"I think that's a reasonable price," said Alan Baum, director of auto forecasting at IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Ford also will export the sport coupe, which is important to long-term sales of so-called fashion-statement cars such as the Cougar.

Dealers have submitted about 15,000 orders since its unveiling in January at the North American International Auto Show.

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