Ford Pulls Plug on Compact Hybrid SUV, but GM may Resuscitate It

  • Ford Escape Hybrid

    Ford Escape Hybrid  (Ford)

  • Ford C-Max Energi

    Ford C-Max Energi  (Ford)

The Ford Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid built by an American automaker, and over 100,000 have been sold since its introduction in 2004. That makes it the best-selling hybrid to date from one of the Big Three automakers.

Ford is killing it next year.

When the 2013 Escape crossover/SUV makes its debut at the Los Angeles auto show in November it will be powered by a choice of four-cylinder engines, but none of them are combined with electric drive motors. Instead, the hybrid will effectively be replaced by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection that Ford says will get better highway fuel economy than the Escape Hybrid does, which is 31 mpg. But hybrids like the Escape excel in city driving where it is rated at 34 mpg, a figure the more conventional vehicle is unlikely to match.

Nevertheless, despite its relative success, the Escape Hybrid has typically accounted for less than 15 percent of the model line’s sales in any given year, thanks in part to a base price over $30,000, so it has proven to be more of an image leader for Ford than profit center. In comparison, Toyota will sell more than 100,000 of its Prius hybrids in just this year.

With that in mind, Ford is shifting the focus of its hybrid utility vehicles to a new, more carlike one called the C-Max. The company says the tall, five-passenger hatchback will get at least 25 percent better fuel economy than the Escape Hybrid, or 40 mpg combined. That’s still short of the 50 mpg rating of the Prius, but close to the 42 mpg rating of the recently launched Prius v station wagon with which it is likely to compete for customers.

Ford will also sell a plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max called the Energi that will deliver even better fuel economy thanks to a larger battery pack that can be recharged from an electrical outlet. Pricing for the C-Max models has not been announced.

But while Ford is pulling the plug on the compact hybrid crossover/SUV, rumors are surfacing that General Motors is about to resuscitate it.

GM once sold a hybrid version of its Saturn Vue crossover, but the model died when the brand was eliminated. Now is reporting that the automaker will begin selling hybrid versions of both the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain starting in 2014.

A source tells the website that the vehicles will use the same eAssist system that is currently available on the Buick LaCrosse. A less robust hybrid powertrain than the one on the Escape, eAssist combines a 2.4-liter engine with a small electric motor that can generate electricity when the car brakes and use it to assist the internal combustion engine under acceleration, but is not meant to drive the car on its own power. Known as a mild hybrid, the fuel economy gains from this type of drivetrain are less than those seen on a full hybrid, but the cost of the system is much lower. Still, based on its performance in the LaCrosse, an Equinox fitted with eAssist could end up getting 25 percent better fuel economy than the current four-cylinder model, or 31 mpg combined.

Whether or not that is enough to generate sales is yet to be seen.

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