Ford to Expand Green Offerings

Mercury Mariner Hybrid launch this fall, followed by Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids in 2008 and a Hybrid Mazda Tribute in 2007.

Published: 11-Jan-2005

OIT -- Responding to critics who insist that the company isn't "green" enough and to the fact Toyota will double output this year of its hot-selling hybrid Prius, Ford Motor Co. will expand its hybrid offerings to five models from three within three years.

"My great-grandfather's vision was to provide affordable transportation for the world. I want to expand that vision for the 21st Century and provide transportation that's socially and environmentally as well as economically affordable," Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford said in detailing hybrid plans at a media preview of the Detroit Auto Show.

Ford introduced its first gas/electric model in 2004, a hybrid version of the compact Escape sport-utility vehicle. It had planned to add a Mercury Mariner version in 2006 and a hybrid Ford Fusion midsize sedan a year later.

Now, it will bring out the hybrid Mariner this fall, a Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrid in 2008, and a hybrid Mazda Tribute SUV in two years.

Ford will produce about 20,000 Escape hybrids annually, but Bill Ford wouldn't say how many the automaker expects to sell annually after all five are available within three years.

"But I can say we won't be limited by supply," he said.

Ford's announcement puts General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG further behind in hybrids. GM expects to sell about 2,000 full-size pickups with "mild" hybrid technology this year and DaimlerChrysler fewer than 100.

Hybrid sales in the U.S. topped 80,000 last year, but GM contributed only 500 of the full-size pickups to the total and DaimlerChrysler none.

J.D. Power and Associates projects sales could reach 222,000 this year and top 500,000, or nearly 3 percent of sales, by 2010.

Toyota sold 54,000 Priuses last year and is doubling production for 2005 to try to ease a four-month order backlog. Toyota will add Lexus and Toyota brand sport-utility hybrids this year. Honda sold about 27,000 Accord, Insight and Civic hybrids in 2004 and sees sales of 46,000 in 2005.

General Motors won't have a hybrid SUV for sale until the Saturn Vue in 2006 and a hybrid car until the Chevrolet Malibu in 2007.

"Toyota and Honda have a major lead on us and Ford a slight lead, but we aren't upset. We have to play our own game and not roll out hybrids until they're ready," said Robert Lutz, vice chairman of GM.

Lutz insists that projected sales of hybrids in relation to the roughly 17 million vehicles sold industrywide each year raises doubt about demand.

"There's a small, fanatic group of West Coast intelligentsia that wants to document their environmental consciousness with a hybrid so they can say, `Look at me, I'm green,'" he said.

Lutz said that in 2007 GM will introduce a two-mode hybrid system in the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon. He insists it will be better because it uses battery power to boost city and highway mileage, not just city mileage like its rivals. It does so by using batteries to provide power not only to start and get the vehicle moving but also at cruising speeds on the highway to reduce the demands for gas.

DaimlerChrysler is partnering with GM to develop dual-mode hybrid technology and will offer a similar system in 2008 on its Dodge Durango SUV.

Nissan won't introduce a hybrid until 2006, when its Altima will use a hybrid system licensed by Toyota.

"It's clearly a segment we have to be in, but the question is how big the pool of buyers is," said Jed Connelly, senior vice president of Nissan North America.

Chrysler's 10 cents: Finally, a vehicle that really turns on a dime.

Chrysler Group unveiled the Jeep Hurricane at the Detroit Auto Show, a full-size, sport-utility concept with a twist: It will twist, in circles.

Front and rear wheels can be turned to point in or out so you can actually travel in tight circles, the reason for the Hurricane moniker.

Trevor Creed, senior vice president for design for Chrysler Group, said the ability to move quickly in either direction by pointing front or rear wheels or both makes it a candidate for use by the military or extreme off-roaders.

"And it keeps you from getting caught between a rock and a hard place," said Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler Group president and chief executive.

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