EcoBoost In, Hybrid Out For Next-Gen Ford EscapeBy Bill Visnic October 7, 2011
Ford Motor Co.s next-generation Escape is debuting at the Los Angeles auto show next month. If the production version can carry over the visual impact of the Vertrek concept (above), opinion is nearly universal that the 2013 Escape will be the compact crossover segments new styling leader. Fords backing that potential with two new high-efficiency engine choices the company is saying will also make the Escape the segments fuel-economy leader. Hybrid-electric vehicle enthusiasts will be out of luck, though. The current Escape offers the segments only hybrid powertrain option, but Ford said at a media briefing this week the 2013 Escape lineups two new downsized, direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engines will be so efficient, its leaving the hybrid business to the upcoming new C-Max people mover.
Partial justification for that strategy is the new Escapes 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder generates better highway fuel economy than the current Escape Hybrid (31 mpg (hwy) for the front-driver, 27 for the AWD model). The 2013 Escapes two upgrade engines will both be EcoBoost variants, with the 2.0-liter version the same as currently used in the Explorer (where it produces 237 horsepower). According to Ford engineers, the new-to-the-U.S. 1.6-liter EcoBoost will be good for more than 175 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque in the Escape. For Ford, EcoBoost engines for the Escape follows up on the application of an EcoBoost V6 in the F-Series fullsize pickup in giving the company its second high-volume deployment of EcoBoost.
The move is bringing Ford to the mid-term phase of an all-encompassing efficiency-enhancement initiative, said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president for global product development. The mid-term phase includes adding new hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, too. Kuzak said 90 percent of Fords North American nameplates will offer an EcoBoost engine by 2013. Ford is covering its bets and the affordability angle by continuing with the conventional 2.5-liter 4-cylinder as the new-generation Escapes base powerplant. That engine, sans turbocharger or direct injection, surely costs considerably less to manufacture and hasnt held back the current-generation Escape, which is continuing to post magnificent sales numbers. Through September, the Escape sold 187,850 units, a 31.5-percent gain compared with the same period last year and is the segments best-seller in the final year of a long run.
C-Max Carries Hybrid Torch
Meanwhile, with the discontinuation of the Escape Hybrid for 2013, Ford said the C-Max hybrid (above) will be the family utility model to which hybrid intenders will be directed when it hits showrooms next year (Ford has not yet said if there will be a hybrid variant of the new-generation Fusion midsize sedan, also coming next year). The big promise with this shift is that the 5-passenger C-Max Hybrid will be more than 25-percent more efficient than the Escape Hybrid. The gains will come largely via the Fords first use of lithium-ion batteries and a new transmission, both of which Ford said were developed in-house.
Apart from redirecting its hybrid emphasis from the utility market to the more passenger-car oriented C-Max family (there will be a battery-electric C-Max Energi following the C-Max Hybrid), Ford may also have additional explaining to do for customers. Kuzak said 50 percent of those Ford polled indicated they did not understand the technical differences between hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. And in responses that may not bode well for advanced-vehicle take rates, respondents said gasoline prices would have to be $5 per gallon or more before they would consider purchasing a hybrid and $6 or more before they would consider an electric vehicle.