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Ford hopes to boost capacity for Escape hybrid

Reuters / June 04, 2004

DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. hopes to boost production capacity for its yet-to-be-launched Escape hybrid SUV because consumer interest is high, the automaker's CEO said on Thursday.

Ford did not say how many more Escape hybrids, due to hit dealer lots late this summer, the company would produce. But the second-largest U.S. automaker had previously said it would make only 20,000 this year.

"We are looking at increasing capacity ... because we think it will be sold out," Bill Ford Jr. told an investment conference in New York.

An increase in production would depend on the availability of the battery systems, he said.

"The question is how many more batteries can we get," Ford said.

The gasoline-electric vehicles are more fuel-efficient because they use batteries for power at slower speeds. Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. is the sole supplier of batteries for the Escape hybrid.

"We're going to have to work with Sanyo to see how many more batteries we can get," Bill Ford said.

Ford decided to up its production as soaring U.S. gasoline prices have made consumers more interested in hybrid vehicles. The Escape will be the first SUV hybrid to hit the market.

The hybrid has been creating an industry buzz since it was introduced at the New York auto show this year, Bill Ford said.

About 31,000 people have expressed an interest on the automaker's Web site in purchasing the vehicle, Ford spokesman Ed Lewis said.

Production of the hybrid version of the compact SUV is expected to begin next month at Ford's facility in Kansas City, Lewis said.
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