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Green groups: Ford still worst on fuel
Environmental groups say hybrid SUV won't help Ford escape gas guzzler tag.
August 4, 2004: 2:11 PM EDT
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - While one major environmental group is praising Ford Motor Co. for being the first to produce a fuel-efficient hybrid SUV, others are taking advantage of the opportunity to remind consumers of Ford's otherwise poor fuel economy record.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid  
2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

"Today is a great day for the environment, American workers and Ford," said David Hamilton, director of global warming and energy programs for the Sierra Club. "The hybrid Escape is a rolling advertisement for better technology and a cleaner environment."

But other environment groups, while ramping up their campaign against the automaker's environmental record, are calling the hybrid Escape, essentially, a patch job on a badly damaged fuel economy record.

"They are kind of painting a pretty picture aren't they?" said Gretchen DuBeau, a staff attorney for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

USPIRG is joining other groups, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Bluewater network, in a campaign to publicize Ford's poor overall fuel economy record.

Ford begins celebrations today in Kansas Cityto mark the start of production for the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. The company plans to produce 20,000 of them.

While agreeing that Ford needs to improve its overall fuel economy standing, Hamilton said the Sierra Club wanted to acknowledge the Escape Hybrid as a positive step.

"We challenge Ford to market these vehicles aggressively and to put hybrid technology into other vehicles," he said.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is powered by a combination of a gasoline engine and an electric motor. As in other hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, the gasoline engine charges a large on-board battery which, in turns powers the electric motor. Both the electric and gas powerplants drive the vehicle, automatically switching between the two depending on the vehicle's speed and power demands.

Ford estimates that the Escape Hybrid will get about 33 miles to the gallon. A non-hybrid 2-wheel drive Ford Escape has a fuel economy rating, as calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency, of 25 miles to the gallon.

Ford is exploring the possibility of building more Escape Hybrids this year if demand warrants, Harmon said. A major limiting factor will be the ability to get enough of the large batteries the vehicles require, he said.

The company is planning two more hybrid vehicles in the next few years, said John Harmon, a Ford spokesman. One will be a version of the Mercury Mariner SUV, a vehicle being introduced this as a year as a 2005 model. The Mariner is based on the Ford Escape. Ford also be introducing a hybrid sedan in the next few year.

Low mileage

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 2004 Ford vehicles currently on the road have an average overall fuel economy of 18.8 miles per gallon, giving Ford the worst overall fuel economy of any major auto manufacturer. DaimlerChrysler has the second-worst overall rating with 20.4 miles per gallon. Ford has maintained that ranking among major automakers since 2001, according to data from the EPA.

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The release of the Escape Hybrid will have little impact on Ford's overall fuel economy, even though it is far above the average 17.9 miles per gallon average attained by all 2004 SUVs currently on the road, according to data from the EPA.

Ford's poor fuel economy ranking largely results from the high percentage of trucks and SUVs the company sells compared to passenger cars, said Ford's Harmon.

"Ford is very strong in truck sales and we haven't been strong in car sales," he said.

In July, 2004, 71 percent of the light vehicles Ford sold were SUVs and pick-up trucks. Ford hopes that new passenger cars being introduced for the 2005 model year will help reduce that percentage, Harmon said.

Also, Ford is adopting more stringent EPA fuel economy standards faster than the government agency requires, he said. More than half the company's 2005 model year light vehicles will meet the EPA's new Tier 2 tailpipe emissions standards, he said, confirming earlier company statements.  Top of page

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