Ford Unveils 1st U.S.-Made Hybrid

Dodging traffic, the Ford Escape looks like any other SUV on the road. But as CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr, it's far from ordinary. This SUV is the first American hybrid.

So CBS went to Ford to check out the Escape, which uses a gasoline engine, an electric motor, and a big battery hidden in the back.

"Right now you are propelling yourself on the electric motor, only no fuels are being expended - no emissions," says Mary Ann Wright, Escape's chief engineer.

In driving the hybrid, we found that a lot of the time the car runs quietly with the gasoline engine off.

To Wright, silence means 40 miles per gallon.

"We're charging the battery as we go, and that's the cool thing," says Wright. "We don't have to plug it in."

Despite Ford's splash with the first hybrid SUV, Honda and Toyota have been making smaller hybrids for years. And lately the cars have been hot sellers.

One of the biggest fans of hybrids is Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Company.

Toyota came out with the technology some five years ago, and Ford is the first of the Big Three automakers to bring it to market.

Ford says the market is ready for it and believes the customer demand is there.

"We think we absolutely do, and we think the issue's going to be how many we can make," says Ford. "It's not how many we can sell."

The challenge of the hybrid is not the technology but the economics. These cars cost much more to build. Now the question is, will people pay more, perhaps thousands more, to drive them?

Ford's expected to sell the hybrid for a few thousand dollars more than the gas powered Escape. But even with gasoline spiking over two dollars a gallon, skeptics question whether hybrids are worth it.

"It's a matter of cost," says auto analyst John McElroy. "Are you going to make back $4,000 in fuel economy savings in the time that you own the car? For most people the answer is no."

But for Ford the answer is yes. GM and Toyota are in the rear view mirror, introducing SUV and truck hybrids later this year, but the plucky Escape will be the first.

And in the auto industry being first on the road usually means winning.
  • Jaime Holguin

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