NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Ford Motor Co. is introducing its second fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid vehicle a year earlier than originally planned, and the company is turning to some critics in the environmental community to help sell it.
The hybrid version of the Mercury Mariner compact SUV went on sale Monday. Ford started selling a hybrid version of the Ford Escape in August 2004, making it the first hybrid SUV. Toyota Motor, the leader in U.S. hybrid vehicle sales, has since introduced hybrid versions of its Highlander and the Lexus RX-400 SUVs.
"Demand for our first hybrid was so strong that we pushed very hard to pull production of the Mercury Mariner Hybrid up by a full year," said a statement from Mary Ann Wright, director of Ford Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Programs.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Ford sold 2,566 hybrid Escapes in 2004, or about 3 percent of the total hybrid market.
Ford said it plans to produce 2,000 Mariner Hybrids at its Kansas City, Mo., plant for the 2006 model year. The company believes volume will eventually grow to 4,000 vehicles annually.
Ford said it will team with groups such as the Sierra Club, a critic of the company's fuel economy performance in the past, to help get out the word about the hybrid Mariner to its environmentally-conscious members.
"We are taking a very non-traditional approach to marketing the Mercury Mariner Hybrid because our target customers are very progressive," said Al Giombetti, president, Lincoln Mercury division of Ford Motor Company.
The Sierra Club said it is pleased to help try to sell the new version of the Mariner.
"We hope that helping to make the Mercury Mariner Hybrid a success will encourage Ford to invest in better technology to increase the fuel economy of its entire fleet," said Dan Becker, director, Sierra Club's Global Warming Program, in a statement issued by Ford.
The hybrid Mariner is expected to get 33 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. Unlike traditional gasoline engines, hybrid vehicles often get better mileage in the city by switching to use of an electric motor during stop-and-go driving. Ford said the vehicle will also meet California's Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Standard.
To see how Detroit is finally starting to embrace the idea of hybrid vehicles, click here.
For more news on autos and auto manufacturers, click here.