There is no basis for Ford Motor Co.'s complaint that California legislation giving special driving privileges to some gasoline-electric hybrids but not to the Ford Escape Hybrid discriminates against the company.
The legislation allows drivers of gasoline-electric hybrids that achieve EPA mileage of at least 45 mpg to drive in high-occupancy lanes on the highway even with only the driver in the car.
The Ford Escape Hybrid doesn't qualify because it gets 31 mpg. The only vehicles that do qualify are the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid and Insight. So Ford CEO Bill Ford complained to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the legislation "amounts to a Buy Japanese bill."
But the proposal is in keeping with the purpose of high-occupancy lanes. They were devised to encourage people to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by riding together, which also would reduce traffic congestion.
This new legislation encourages consumers to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by investing in new technology.
California can't do it alone. Because many of these lanes are on federal highways, the U.S. Department of Transportation must classify hybrids as inherently low-emission vehicles, the same designation given to electric vehicles, which already may use the lanes.
One flaw is that the bill's mileage requirement is based on EPA fuel economy ratings, not the mileage that people get on the road. But many hybrid drivers don't get anywhere near the EPA mileage, let alone the bill's 45-mpg threshold.
Ford Motor COO Jim Padilla says that the automaker could have engineered the Escape Hybrid to get a higher EPA mileage rating, but consumers would have been disappointed with the performance. That may be. But it's no reason to change the law in California.