updated 1/25/2005 1:32:45 PM ET 2005-01-25T18:32:45

The Ford Motor Co. has said it will sell two Ford Ranger electric pickup trucks to a pair of lease holders who staged sit-ins at a Sacramento Ford dealer rather than surrender the vehicles as requested by the nation's second largest automaker.

Ford called its change of heart a limited "customer satisfaction issue." But clean-air activists characterized it as a symbolic victory for nonpolluting cars and trucks in California, and urged Ford to resume its discontinued electric vehicle program.

"These are great vehicles," said David Bernikoff-Raboy, a Mariposa County rancher celebrating Ford's decision to sell him the truck. "Ford is missing a huge marketing opportunity with these vehicles." The rancher and his wife, Heather, said the Ranger costs little to maintain, requires no fuel and frees the nation from dependence on foreign oil.

But Ford spokeswoman Cheryl Eberwein said the automaker is focused instead on hybrid technology with a long-range eye on hydrogen-powered cars. Describing the company's experiment with electric vehicles, she said, "The market didn't support it."

The two disputed electric pickup trucks are among 1,500 manufactured by Ford between 1998 and 2001, and were leased to the Bernikoff-Raboy family, and to William Korthof, owner of a Pomona solar power installation company.

Most similar trucks have since been called in by Ford and scrapped as the company turned to different technologies and an industry lawsuit blocked California's requirement that 5 percent of vehicles sold there by 2001 produce zero emissions. Eberwein said only 88 of Ford's electric pickups remain and most are in municipal fleets with leases that expire late next year.

Both lease holders waged a yearlong campaign with Ford to buy their vehicles instead of seeing them destroyed. Beginning Jan. 15, they and clean air activists began a sit-in at Downtown Ford in Sacramento to protest the company's scrapping policy and vowed to remain until Ford reversed it.

"It took them a year, and a lot of effort on my part with no results, and suddenly they're willing to rethink the situation," Korthof said.

Eberwein said Ford knows only of four individual owners of the electric pickups.

"If there are other situations out there we will look at it on a case by case basis," she said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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