Ford Motor Co., the nation's second biggest automaker, said Friday it is teaming up with an energy company to increase the number of ethanol fuel stations next year and said it plans a consumer awareness campaign about the benefits of ethanol.

The announcements come as high gasoline prices have driven many car buyers to opt for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Ford has about 1 million ethanol-capable vehicles on the road, including some Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles and Ford Taurus sedans, but the company said many owners may not even realize that they can use ethanol as well as traditional gasoline.

Ford said it will work with VeraSun Energy Corp. (search) of Brookings, S.D., to convert existing fuel pumps to E85, an alternative fuel made from a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. No financial terms were disclosed.

Ford spokeswoman Chris Morrisroe said Ford would announce the number of stations and their location later. Morrisroe said Ford plans to add fewer than 100 fuel stations in the Midwest, where ethanol is readily available because it's distilled from corn and grain.

Only about 500 of the 180,000 fuel stations in the United States currently offer E85, Ford said.

Ford plans to produce 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006, including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria (search), Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.

"Ford is working on innovative solutions to customer concerns over high gas prices and America's overdependence on foreign oil," Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford (search) said in a statement. "Ethanol is an innovative energy source straight from the heartland of America."

Ford shares fell 13 cents to $8.25 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.