DETROIT -- Early on a crisp Saturday morning at Ford's Research and Innovation Laboratory in Dearborn, Mich., Mary Ann Wright is crackling with energy. She's cracking jokes, shaking hands and showing Ford Escape Hybrid owners how the various electronic parts on their vehicles work.
As director of Ford's sustainable technologies and hybrid programs, Wright, 43, has become the public face and voice for Ford's hybrid vehicles, the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner. She spent Oct. 8 and 9 meeting with about 300 Escape Hybrid owners.
The event kicked off Ford's "Hybrid Patrol," a 10-city initiative this fall that aims to show hybrid drivers how to drive for best fuel economy.
One reason Wright and several dozen members of her engineering team are meeting with Escape Hybrid owners is to avoid the customer-dissatisfaction problems that are tarnishing hybrids from Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
Many buyers of the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are angry that their vehicles aren't getting the EPA estimated fuel economy printed on the window sticker. A Prius that has an EPA rating of close to 60 mpg in city driving typically gets closer to 40 mpg, according to about a dozen Web sites and owner forums. The EPA is working to revamp its decades-old test procedure.
The four-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid is rated at 33 mpg on the EPA's city driving cycle and 29 mpg on the highway cycle, and most buyers at the Dearborn event said they were getting close to those figures.