WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday it has certified Ford Motor Co.'s 2005 Escape as the first gasoline-electric hybrid SUV for sale in the United States that meets the agency's stringent new emissions standards.
Ford's compact hybrid Escape sport utility vehicle goes into commercial production this week. Unlike conventional gasoline cars, the hybrid vehicle also includes an electric motor that at times takes over as the power source.
The Escape, which Ford expects to have available for purchase in September, captures the energy that would otherwise be lost during braking and stores it in a battery used to power the electric motor.
When the demand for power is low, the electric motor takes over to replace the gasoline motor, so that the vehicle burns less fuel.
The Escape's two-wheel drive version gets 36 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. The four-wheel drive fuel economy is estimated at 33 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. That's much higher than most SUVs for the 2004 model year, which averaged 17.9 mpg.
Ford expects to produce 20,000 Escapes annually, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of the 6 million vehicles the company plans to build for the 2005 model year.
Environmental groups have criticized Ford for planning to produce so few of the Escapes and said the company's fleet will still have the worst fuel efficiency of any major U.S. automaker.
EPA said the Escape was given a score of nine in its Green Vehicle Guide, which assigns air pollution scores to vehicles on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the least polluting.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s 2000 Insight was the first hybrid passenger car introduced to the U.S. market, and Toyota Motor Corp.'s 2004 Prius was the first mid-size hybrid sedan.