Ford to Fuel Improved SUV Gas Mileage

Ford to Fuel Improved SUV Gas Mileage

Ford Motor Co., attacking complaints about gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, said yesterday it will raise the average fuel economy on its hot-selling SUVs in the United States by 25 percent by 2005. Ford said this decision will cover all its SUVs, which include Land Rover vehicles, Ford Explorer, Expedition and Excursion, Mercury Mountaineer, Lincoln Navigator, and the newly introduced Ford Escape.

"We are taking this very significant action with some of our most popular products because it is the right thing to do for our customers and for our stockholders," said Jac Nasser, president and chief executive officer. "It is the next logical step in our 'Cleaner, Safer, Sooner' campaign, which we began with the announcement two-and-a-half years ago that all Ford Motor Company Sport Utility Vehicles would be low emission vehicles."

Vice President Gore, speaking about the automaker's decision, said, "This effort provides further evidence that we can protect our environment even as we create jobs and spur economic growth."

Gore said new hybrid technologies developed under the New Generation of Vehicles program will make this fuel efficiency jump possible. The PNGV is a partnership between the federal government and Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford that has the goal of producing a passenger car that can get 80 miles to the gallon without sacrificing any safety or comfort.

Ford said about 70 percent of the its fuel economy gains will be achieved through improvements in existing vehicle lines, including the application of advanced powertrain technologies, weight reductions, and improved aerodynamics. The other 30 percent of improvements will come from new entries into the market like the Escape and Escape Hybrid.

The company estimates that the average Ford SUV buyer will use 1,700 fewer gallons of gasoline through the life of his or her vehicle, saving more than $2,400 in fuel costs.

Playing catch-up

General Motors Corp., Ford's largest competitor, fired back with a statement that it already leads Ford in fuel economy in the full-size and mid-size SUV segments -- something Nasser did not dispute.

"If they do what they say they are going to do, a large part of that is going to be playing catch-up to us," said GM spokesman Bill Noack.

DaimlerChrysler AG also said it has aggressively pursued fuel economy issues. Sport utility vehicles have been among the fastest-selling vehicles on U.S. roads in recent years, even though they get lower gas mileage than minivans and cars.

Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., an avid environmentalist and great grandson of founder Henry Ford, has made improving the company's environmental record a top priority, although Ford conceded at its annual meeting in May that SUVs fall short of its environmental goals.

Nasser's announcement comes just as Toyota Motor Corp. begins selling the Prius, the first mass-produced sedan on the road that will run on a gasoline-electric engine and achieve 52 miles per gallon in city traffic.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. launched last fall a two-seater car, called the Insight, which it says gets more than 70 miles per gallon from its gasoline-electric engine. Neither the Insight nor the Prius need to be plugged in -- they recharge their batteries while the car is braked.

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