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Ford to debut 2009 Escape at D.C. auto show

Image: 2009 Ford Escape hybrid SUV
Both the gasoline and hybrid versions of the Escape and Mercury Mariner will have a new 2.5-liter engine that will boost power 11 percent to 170 horsepower.Ford via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ford’s 2009 Escape gas-electric hybrid will show improvements in power and performance, the automaker said Tuesday.

Ford Motor Co. was unveiling the 2009 versions of the Escape and its corporate twin, the 2009 Mercury Mariner, at the Washington Auto Show, which opens to the public on Wednesday and lasts through Sunday.

The sport utility vehicle was one of several hybrid developments at the show. Both Ford and Toyota Motor Corp. were displaying prototype plug-in hybrids while General Motors Corp. was announcing that new orders from three metropolitan transit agencies would more than double its hybrid bus fleet.

Automakers typically show off their fuel-efficient technologies at the Washington show, which is heavily attended by government and political leaders. An energy law signed by President Bush will require the companies to meet an overall fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Ford said overall fuel efficiency for the gasoline versions of the 2009 Escape and Mariner would increase by 1 mpg compared with the 2008 versions, which get between 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway depending on the engine configuration.

The fuel economy on the 2009 hybrid versions of the Escape and Mariner are not expected to change by any substantial amount, Ford said.

Both the gasoline and hybrid versions of the Escape and Mariner will have a new 2.5-liter engine that will boost power 11 percent to 170 horsepower. The gasoline versions will also offer an optional 230-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine with similar gains in fuel economy. The 2009 versions of both models will go on sale this summer.

General Motors said its fleet of nearly 1,000 GM-Allison hybrid-powered buses would more than double thanks to large orders by transit agencies in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Beth Lowery, GM’s vice president for energy and environmental policy, said it underscored the company’s strategy to “save as many gallons of fuel as possible by applying hybrid technology first to high-volume and high fuel consuming vehicles like mass transit buses.”

Beyond conventional hybrids, several car makers are testing plug-in hybrids that could allow owners to plug the vehicle’s battery into a standard wall outlet to recharge it. The vehicles typically feature batteries that power an electric motor with an internal combustion engine that is used when the batteries run low.

General Motors has said production could begin as early as 2010 on a plug-in hybrid electric version of the Saturn Vue Green Line and is hoping to bring the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric car, to market by the same timeframe.

Toyota said recently that it plans to test hundreds of plug-in hybrids with fleet and commercial customers by 2010. It will show journalists on Tuesday one of the plug-in Prius prototypes, which switches from pure electric to gas engine to a blended gas electric mode.

Chrysler LLC showed three plug-in concept cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, while Ford has a partnership with Southern California Edison to develop a small fleet of plug-ins.

Whether the vehicles make it to showrooms depends on the industry’s ability to mass produce the batteries and how well they are received by fleet and commercial customers.

“This isn’t a moon-shot,” said Greg Frenette, chief engineer of Ford’s plug-in program. “Within the next five years, we ought to know whether we can produce these batteries cost-effectively.”