Ford May Yet Build Hybrid Escape in Ohio Plant

Hope revived that Avon Lake assembly plant will build new hybrid-electric SUV.

Published: 01-Mar-2003

ELAND -- The possibility of building a hybrid version of the Ford Escape at the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake was revived yesterday by a Ford Motor Co. official speaking at the 2003 Greater Cleveland International Auto Show.

While talking about the scheduled start at the plant this summer of standard models of the small sport utility, Ford Division President Steve Lyons said a decision on the hybrid version would be made this summer.

Lyons said if the company decides to bring the hybrid gas and electric power version to Lorain County, production would start later in the year.

''The Escape will start rolling out (at the Ohio Assembly Plant) this summer. They'll go out as 2004 models,'' said Lyons, adding that the company is expected to produce 45,000 Escapes a year.

Lyons was speaking at a media preview of the auto show, which begins today at the I-X Center at 11 a.m. and will go to Sunday, March 9.

The Kansas City Assembly Plant currently builds all Escapes, including its joint-production sibling, the Mazda Tribute.

Last December industry sources said the incentives being offered in Ohio to also include the hybrid's production were less lucrative than the incentive package offered to Ford by Missouri for the Kansas City plant.

Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner said Ford officials told him the decision wasn't an easy one to make, but was due in part to decreasing sales of the SUV.

With a plant in Missouri that builds the Escape not working at full capacity, it didn't make sense to build hybrids in Avon Lake, said Roman Krygier Jr., Ford's group vice president for manufacturing and quality.

''Demand has dropped off. That was the reason,'' he said in December.

Ford unveiled the Escape HEV model in 2001 as a concept car at the Los Angeles auto show. HEV, which stands for hybrid electric vehicle, gets 40 miles to the gallon.

''We plan to make 15,000 to 18,000 hybrids a year. We have some hope it will be bigger,'' Lyons said yesterday. ''You have to let the consumer test it and touch it.''

This year's Cleveland International Auto Show is the 100th installment in a tradition that officials say began in Cleveland.

''We're celebrating 100 years of auto shows,'' said Gary Adams, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers Association, the group that organizes the auto show.

''The first show was at Gray's Armory (in downtown Cleveland) in 1903. In the early 20th century, Cleveland was the auto capital of the world. Cleveland has a rich heritage, history and tradition in the automotive industry.''

Adams said the show was coordinated to begin today in conjunction with Statehood Day, the day Ohio celebrates its 200th anniversary.

''We're trying to tie the history here at the auto show with the state's heritage,'' Adams said.

As a part of the show's celebration of Ohio's heritage the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers' Association in conjunction with the Western Reserve Historical Society's Crawford Museum of Transportation and Industry will present a special Commemorative Bicentennial Auto Collection celebrating auto manufacturing in Ohio.

The show features more than 800 vehicles valued at more than $125 million, including cars, trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles, competition specialty and concept cars.

The show is expected to have about 675,000 people in attendance, according to the show's chairman Joe Firment, owner of Joe Firment Chevrolet in Lorain and Joe Firment's Lupe Chevrolet in Avon Lake.

''Lorain County is the largest county in attendance. We're the fifth largest show in the country. We're behind Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York,'' he said.

Firment isn't the only local person involved in the auto show. Two seniors in the Auto Technology program at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School will face off with other students in a mechanical showdown at the 11th Annual Automotive Tech Competition tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the I-X Center's concourse level.

The competition is sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers' Association and showcases the group's year-round commitment to enhancing the image of the profession and addressing the auto tech shortage in northern Ohio.

Todd Copeland and Chris Wojciechowski will compete as a team against six other teams of two. The top four teams will get their share of $30,000 in college scholarships.

Clyde Haefele, senior auto instructor at the Lorain County JVS, said the school usually has students involved in the competition.

''We have always placed in the competition except for two years. The school has a big role in motivating students,'' he said. ''I think the surroundings of the JVS helps those students have the drive and the want to do this as a living. They see the opportunities that are there.''

He said the competition is a stringent one. In order to qualify, students must score well on a written auto technology exam in order to compete at the show.

''Out of 150 students, there are seven teams of two students that are picked. They do it by the grades on the test. The competition means they'll troubleshoot seven brand new vehicles represented by various dealers,'' he said. ''The brand new vehicles will have bugs and the students have to diagnose the problem and repair them. It's a big test, they get two to two and a half hours to find the faults and repair them.

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