Ford Motor Co. hopes to boost production capacity for its yet-to-be-launched Escape hybrid sport utility vehicle because consumer interest is high, the automaker’s chairman and chief executive said Thursday.
Ford did not say how many more gas-electric Escapes, 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.
The company expects the Environmental Protection Agency to rate the front-wheel drive version of the hybrid Escape at 35-40 mpg for a city driving, nearly double the gas-only Escape mileage.
Depends on battery supply
Ford's move comes 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.
An increase in production would depend on the availability of the battery systems, Bill Ford said. “The question is how many more batteries can we get,” Ford said.
Sanyo Electric 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.
The gas-electric vehicles are more fuel-efficient because they use batteries for power at slower speeds and to assist the gas engine at higher speeds. The Escape can travel on electric power alone up to 25 mph. Hybrids don't need to be plugged in to be recharged — instead energy from braking and the gas engine charge the batteries.
31,000 online requests
The Escape hybrid has been creating an industry buzz since it was introduced at the New York auto show earlier this year.
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, Mo., Lewis said.
Ford is the first U.S. automaker to come out with a hybrid. Japanese rivals Honda and Toyota were the first, selling two-door and sedan hybrids since the late 1990s.
Most automakers are coming out with hybrids over the next few months. GM has so-called mild hybrid pickups out this summer. Toyota's Lexus version is coming out with a hybrid SUV at the end of the year. Honda is set to unveil a hybrid Accord.