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Old 08-06-2004, 06:41   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford starts hybrid production

Ford starts hybrid production

Company says sales of Escape edition may exceed capacity

By David Twiddy / Associated Press


Orlin Wagner / Associated Press

The 2005 Escape Hybrid, which Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford stands next to at its launch, gets between 35 and 40 miles per gallon in city driving compared to the 20 mpg of its gasoline-only counterpart.

CLAYCOMO, Mo. — Ford Motor Co. officially kicked off production Thursday of a hybrid version of the Escape SUV, the world’s first gas-electric hybrid sport utility vehicle and the first hybrid vehicle produced by an American automaker.

Bill Ford, Ford’s chairman and chief executive officer, drove the Escape into a roomful of workers at the company’s plant in suburban Kansas City, which will build 20,000 of the vehicles in the 2005 model year. Ford said providing a cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient vehicle would keep the company competitive as more consumers consider gas prices and pollution when buying a car.

“They don’t want to give up their SUVs, and we don’t think they should have to,” Ford said. “It gets them where they want to go with greater fuel efficiency and much lower emissions.”

The Escape joins the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and the hybrid version of the Honda Civic as the only gas-electric vehicles available in the United States.

Company officials said demand for the new Escape, which starts at $26,300, about $3,300 more than the regular Escape, has been huge, with some dealers in California already taking orders and amassing waiting lists of 80 or more people.

That mirrors the success of Honda and Toyota, which announced earlier this week that it would increase production of the Prius to 15,000 a month from the current 10,000. Toyota also plans to release hybrid versions of its Highlander and Lexus RX SUVs.

Ford is already looking for ways to boost output of the Escape hybrid.

“We’re working with key suppliers to find ways to notch it up,” Ford COO James Padilla said at an industry conference in Traverse City.

Ford officials said they were tentatively entering the hybrid market and, depending on how quickly the new Escape models sell, they could increase production in future model years.

“The hybrid market is still a new marketplace,” said Sheri Shapiro, marketing manager for the Escape. “We’re going to see what happens.”
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