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Ford Unveils Hybrid SUV - 2004-06-17

The chairman and chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company, William Clay Ford, Jr., came to Washington Wednesday, June 16 to do a little catching up in the public relations game.

The Ford folks have been promising to take the wraps off their gasoline-electric hybrid sport utility vehicle (SUV) - the Escape - for a couple of years. Finally, the promise has been kept.

Chairman Ford brought a dozen of their compact hybrid Escapes to the nation's capitol and symbolically handed the keys to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.

"It's the [environmentally] cleanest and most fuel efficient SUV. on the planet," he said. "It uses a combination of gasoline and electric power to deliver more than 35 miles (56.3 km) per [U.S.] gallon in city driving and it does this without compromising function."

The company is donating the SUVs for use in some of America's national parks, a nice gesture and one designed to generate maximum publicity.

"These vehicles are going to be donated to urban parks, where the performance of the hybrid technology can best be appreciated. Because as [Ford VP] Phil [Martens] pointed out, the real benefit of these vehicles is in city driving," said William Clay Ford, Jr. "So, that includes parks here in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Denver."

Ford's 2005 Escape Hybrid may be the world's first hybrid SUV, but Toyota and Honda have a four-year head start in this public relations race. They've been selling hybrid cars and enjoying their green reputations while competitors have sniped from the sidelines.

Ford declares the Escape Hybrid will produce a 50 percent improvement in fuel economy over a comparable S.U.V. with conventional gasoline engine. The company's argument is that fuel savings and reduced exhaust emissions are more meaningful with a larger vehicle such as the Escape than they are with an already fuel efficient small car, such the Honda Civic - that more gas will be conserved.

In accepting the SUVs from Chairman Ford, Interior Secretary Norton noted the Bush administration's position on such vehicles.

"We have supported the [federal] tax credit for purchasing hybrid vehicles," she said. "And we think this kind of advanced technology can help us in dealing with energy issues as well as environmental issues."

Base price for the Escape Hybrid is $26,970. The all-wheel-drive version goes for $28,585. That means a hybrid costs about $3,300 more than a comparably-equipped Escape with a conventional V-6 engine. The extra cost is for batteries and other hybrid components.

The Ford Escape Hybrid goes on sale to the general public later this year.