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Old 04-21-2004, 11:50   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.:Ford looking to build larger hybrid vehicle in future

Ford looking to build larger hybrid vehicle in future

By AMY WILSON | Automotive News

NEW YORK -- Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford expects that his company eventually will build a hybrid vehicle larger than the Escape SUV.

But the automaker's hybrid technology needs greater development, he said.

"The first generation of the electric motor isn't strong enough to do it on a much bigger vehicle," Bill Ford said at the New York auto show.

"But my expectation is that as we get into the second and third generation of these kinds of technologies, like all new technology, it will get better and more refined, and ultimately, yes, we will be able to."

Bill Ford didn't suggest a time frame. But he said the automaker is working on technology to make all of its vehicles, including larger SUVs, more fuel-efficient.

Greater use of diesel engines is one of those options. But because of pending federal regulations on emissions, new diesel options aren't likely until late this decade, Ford Motor COO Nick Scheele said at the auto show.

By that time, Ford Motor should have three full hybrid vehicles on the market. The hybrid Escape goes on sale in August.

The automaker plans to introduce a hybrid version of its Mercury Mariner in 2006. That small SUV is a derivative of the Escape.

Ford Motor's third hybrid will be a mid-sized Ford sedan based on the company's CD3 architecture, derived from the Mazda6.

Company executives won't project hybrid volume for the three vehicles. The company plans to build 20,000 Escape hybrids a year.

Pricing of the hybrid Escape hasn't been determined. The vehicles will carry a premium similar to that of other hybrids on the market, executives said.

Although the overall Escape program is profitable, early returns on the hybrid Escape won't be great, Bill Ford said. But as fuel prices rise, the importance of such vehicles increases, he added.

The CEO again advocated government tax incentives for hybrid purchases. A $3,000 tax break would be appropriate, he said last week.

Bill Ford also said he would support a higher gasoline tax to encourage consumer demand for more economical vehicles. But he conceded such an increase probably is not politically feasible.

Some environmental groups have criticized Ford Motor and its CEO for not doing enough to improve fuel economy. Bill Ford responded to that criticism by citing the automaker's environmentally friendly new Rouge assembly plant in Dearborn, Mich.

Said Ford: "In a way, it makes me mad, because if you look at what we've done at the Rouge, nobody else has done that.

"We're the first American company with a hybrid," he said. "And now we have a third, and we're going to continue to try to push for more hybrids."
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