Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid

“If the typical driver is driving up into their driveway at the end of the day, and hasn’t depleted the battery and they’re driving up with stored energy that they didn’t use, they haven’t gotten the full value of their investment for the day.”

Greg Frenette
Ford manager of battery electric vehicle applications

When President Obama visited Southern California Edison’s electric vehicle test facility in March, he used the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid as the main prop for the photo op. The president spoke in soaring tones about America’s energy challenges, green jobs, and the cars of tomorrow—but the expression on his face in the PR photo was disbelief if not outright disapproval.

While Ford’s marketing folks might have preferred one of Obama’s winning smiles, his grimace better reflects Ford’s rigorous and skeptical approach to making sure the Escape Plug-in Hybrid is truly ready to hit showrooms in 2012. In February, Sue Cischke, Ford’s group vice president for environment and safety, said, “Plug-in hybrids hold great promise, but do still face significant obstacles to commercialization.”

It’s All About the Battery

Ford is claiming that the plug-in hybrid version of the Escape, a fully capable small SUV, can travel 30 to 35 miles using little or no gas—if driven in town and if the batteries are charged for six to eight hours using common household current. After those 30 or so miles, the vehicle reverts to acting like a conventional Escape Hybrid—which happens to be the most fuel-efficient SUV currently on American roads.

The key to achieving those goals is the Escape Plug-in’s battery pack. “It’s all about the battery, its design, and its integration into the vehicle,” Greg Frenette, the lead engineer in Ford’s Escape Plug-in testing program, told “Its economics are absolutely critical, and you have to have the right battery source for the vehicle.” Ford has a five-year supply agreement with the Johnson Controls-Saft, the US-French battery supplier led by Mary Ann Wright, the former Ford engineer behind the original Escape Hybrid.

Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid

In other words, don’t make the batteries too big because the battery pack is the single most expensive component in a plug-in car. Higher cost is the Achilles’ heel of plug-in cars. If Ford can keep down the purchase price, deliver all-electric transportation for the lion’s share of driving, and offer it in a highly functional small SUV package, it could have a winner on its hands.

Come Home Empty

The Escape Hybrid differs from other upcoming plug-in hybrids and electric cars in two significant ways: It uses a smaller 10 kilowatt hour (kWh) lithium ion battery pack and it can blend electricity and gasoline as required by the driver’s needs. The Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Ford Focus EV—which use 16 kWh, 24 kWh and 23 kWh batteries respectively—use only electricity to power the wheels.

“When we looked at sizing the batteries, our goal was to get as much out of that battery as we could without carrying around a lot of energy that we wouldn’t be able to use,” said Frenette. “If the typical driver is driving up into their driveway at the end of the day, and hasn’t depleted the battery and they’re driving up with stored energy that they didn’t use, they haven’t gotten the full value of their investment for the day.”

General Motors is taking a nearly identical same approach with its planned small SUV plug-in hybrid—which was originally planned as Saturn, but will probably be released with Chevrolet branding. “The idea is you’re going to plug in at night. You’re going to get the electricity off the grid and then you’re going to deplete it in about the first 20 miles,” Larry Nitz, GM executive director of hybrid powertrain engineering, told CNet. “Why 20 miles? Because we want you to come home empty. We want you to use it all every time you go out.”

Unlike the Chevy Volt, the Ford Escape Plug-in (and GM’s future plug-in SUV) will be able to blend gas and electricity as required. “At the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that the blended approach gave us the optimal design from a battery size, package, investment, and customer utility standpoint,” Frenette said.

More Testing

By the time the Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid hits showrooms in 2012, it will have been put through hundreds of thousands of miles of real world testing over a five-year period. About 20 test versions are currently being tested in utility company fleets in California, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Quebec, Canada. About 130 more will be produced for testing, thanks to a $30 million US Department of Energy grant.

In August, Scott Burgess, columnist at Detroit News, got behind the wheel of one of the test vehicles. “This model feels much more ready than any electric vehicle I’ve tested,” he wrote. “Quick acceleration, seamless gas engine start and stop, nice braking feel, and no giant red emergency shut off button on the dash.” Yet, Ford continues to test and evaluate the vehicle to make sure the batteries can stand the tests of durability, performance, longevity, and harsh weather.

Ford was the first American company to put in a hybrid on the market. It was the first company to offer a hybrid SUV. If it can deliver a cost-competitive and trustworthy plug-in hybrid SUV, it might finally put a smile on Obama’s face.


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  • Skeptic

    I guess it’s Ford’s track record that makes me think this *isn’t* vaporware. After all, they actually produce a hybrid Escape already … unlike GM and the Invisi-Volt.

  • Crut100

    I sure hope this comes out. I would love to be able to purchase this vehicle. I’ve had Ford vehicles (not exclusively) but continually since 1995 and this is exactly the the kind of car I want to buy. Good work Ford.

  • J-Bob

    Ford has one major advantage going forward compared to their US counterparts, they didn’t file bankruptcy. If they can produce this car and maintain a steady stream of newer and varied hybrid powertrains for the fleet of vehicles, then they will be the one US auto manufacturer who stands a chance of mitigating the the stigma, that if you want a quality car that’s going to last go Japanese.

    They’ve got a ways to go yet, but they’ve definitely springboarded ahead of GM and Chrysler as far a public perception goes. Want proof, look at the sales of vehicles over the past 6 months.

  • Samie

    If the 2010 Hybrid Escape costs $27,573 (see how much will the plug-in version cost?

    I would rather hear about Ford trying to improve on the current gen. of Hybrid Escape since the 2010 model is basically a carryover from last year. It is a great vehicle but I wonder if they should focus on gaining more mpgs or/and power since it has a 2.5L engine say for added towing options or find ways to reduce the price of this vehicle.

    I’m not saying a plug-in option is not important but I think if Ford can improve on their hybrid system for SUV’s they could apply it to larger SUV’s that all manufactures love & possibly vehicles that need to have towing or hauling compatibilities.

  • alancamp

    Ford should have a good lineup of hybrid and electric vehicles by 2012. It’s good that they are doing heavy testing. The Escape improved in 2010 with an even longer electric driving range, faster speed before the gasoline engine kicks in, and even higher mileage.

    I drive less than 10 miles a day. So an all electric or the plug in Escape would be ideal.

    btw….maybe the expression on president Obama’s face is ‘hummm…sounds like you guys are gonna pull it off…’.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    “Ford is claiming that the plug-in hybrid version of the Escape, a fully capable small SUV, can travel 30 to 35 miles using little or no gas—if driven in town and if the batteries are charged for six to eight hours using common household current. After those 30 or so miles, the vehicle reverts to acting like a conventional Escape Hybrid—which happens to be the most fuel-efficient SUV currently on American roads.”

    Assuming only 30 miles to the charge, EPA/DOE combined gas mileage of 32 mpg after charge depletion, and gas at $2.50 per gallon, the mpg estimates for the two wheel drive are:

    35 mile trip – 224 mpg / $0.39 gas cost plus wall charge cost

    40 mile trip – 128 mpg / $0.78 gas cost plus wall charge cost

    45 mile trip – 96 mpg / $1.17 gas cost plus wall charge cost

    50 mile trip – 80 mpg / $1.56 gas cost plus wall charge cost

    If one would get 35 miles to the charge, a 35 mile trip would have “infinite” mpg, one can of gas stabilizer cost per year, and only the wall charge per trip. The 50 mile trip would have 106 mpg, $1.17 gas cost plus the wall charge. And then change the figures for a real world average of 35.5 mpg versus the estimated EPA/DOE combined gas mileage of 32 mpg. The mpg is well over 100mpg for all short mileage trips. All long trips are guaranteed over 37 mpg for the SUV no matter what. And all of this from 110 current and only six to eight hours of charging? This sounds like a winning combination to me. I think Ford has taken a page from Toyota and really done their homework.

  • John K.

    I’d rather have a Ford Fusion Plug-in Hybrid.

    My guess: that won’t be far behind the, hopefully successful, launch of the Escape Plug-in Hybrid.

  • Used limousines

    The Ford Escape Hybrid is already ridiculously priced, I can only imagine what this plug-in model will do for that. Maybe that’s why they want to wait 3 years before they introduce it; by that time the batteries will be half the price, and they’ll be able to sell it for a reasonable amount.

  • Mr. Fusion

    “If the typical driver is driving up into their driveway at the end of the day, and hasn’t depleted the battery and they’re driving up with stored energy that they didn’t use, they haven’t gotten the full value of their investment for the day.”

    Does that left over energy then evaporate and not there to use the next day?

    Should today’s average cars only have 2 gallon gas tanks?

    If all cars have small gas tanks or small batteries, both scenarios make for either long lines at the pump or a large daily synchronized drain on the energy grid.

  • Dan L

    Redbeard, Ford is showing that they understand the most important factor in electric car economics. The expensive batteries in EVs are not cost justified unless they see frequent heavy use. I’m quite pleased, because this is the first time I’ve heard a car company admit to understanding this.

    I will launch into a long rambling example: Your PHEV car that you will drive about 300 days a year and will last about 10 years has a battery with a 10 KWh capacity that cost $5000 to build. So, your battery costs you about $1.67 per day, no matter how far you drive. (More if you add in the interest on the upfront cost of the battey.) This is a cost that traditional ICE cars don’t have. On the other hand, your fuel costs for all-electric driving are substantially lower than for gasoline powered driving. Approximiately $0.04 per mile for electric as compared to $0.10 per mile for gasoline. So, if you drive 35 all-electric miles per day, you will save about $2.10 in fuel costs per day. But you only get this savings if you actually drive the car the full distance.

    If you fully use the battery capacity every day, you will save about $0.43 per day in combined fuel and battery costs. If you only use half the battery capacity every day, it would actually be $0.62 per day cheaper to drive an ICE car. Over the life of the vehicle, the difference adds up to thousands of dollars.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Redbeard, I doubt that the gas/diesel hybrids will have tanks smaller than the 7 gallon Chevy Volt tank. Remember that the gas/diesel hybrids are designed to cover both short and long sustained trips. The Chevy Volt with its 7 gallon tank is designed to go 340 miles without stopping. The Toyota Prius plug-in is stated to go 625 miles without stopping. The Ford escape hybrid plug-in will be capable of 510+ miles or 562.5+ miles depending on whether one uses EPA/DOE mpg or real world mpg. And none of them will need to be recharged to keep on going like an EV would at this time. All of them are capable of traveling coast to coast without stopping for anything other than gas. But they will be the most economical in the 30 to 50 mile range.

  • Tripp

    Check out this online PHEV vs ICE vehicle cost calculator (including the Escape and Prius):

    It makes Dan L’s comment above easier to understand…

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Tripp, thanks for the good site. It has a very good generalization of parameters. Using the advance options and comparing the Ford Escape plug-in to the 2010 Prius, the Prius is the hands down “winner” if one makes long trips on a regular basis. But once the calculator is set for short trips and no long trips, the tables turn with the Ford Escape plug-in the hands down “winner”. Again, it comes down to knowing what ones needs and driving requirements are before one can determine what is the best vehicle for ones self. For some, it will be an plug-in or EV. For others, it will be a gas/diesel hybrid.

  • sean t

    Thanks Dan, Tripp and Lost Prius to wife.
    You made the picture clearer.

  • RKRB

    Ford seems conservative with its Plug-in, but it appears a good and smart conservatism. I wish them well and hope they expand it to other cars in their line (and even more, like a hybrid convertible or sports car). We’ve had our Escape hybrid for over three years and nearly 40,000 miles and it’s been completely trouble-free.

    Good posts about the economics of these vehicles, too, from Dan, Redbeard, and LPTW.

    I wouldn’t worry about Obama’s smile, or grimace, or whatever. It’s probably as hard to trust a modern politician’s facial expression as their words. It’s just irrelevant hype.

  • Fran Anderson

    I would love the ford hybrid. It’s big enough to travel and the fuel savings will be great.

  • Tom Moss

    I bought my first Ford ( 1936 three window) sixty years ago. I have been a ford owner for the past sixty years and have never regreted it. Present auto is an 2008 Ford Escape and is one of the finest cars I have ever owned. If you are in need of a small SUV I believe the 2012 Escape plug in will fill the bill. At the rate of battery technology 2012 may suprise you when it comes to cost.
    All I can say is stick with Ford and Ford products, in the long run you will be way ahead of the game. I have aready advised my dealer that when this plugin is available he is to order me one, that is if my family doesn’t take my drivers lic. away.

    Have a Great day,
    God Bless America,

  • Dwayne Cole

    Electric cars have been around for years. most of them can travel up to 80 miles before recharging with batteries that are not that expensive , so I believe there’s really no reason not to have electric and plug in hybrid cars available to the public at an affordable price.

  • GoGreen

    I would definitely be interested in this plug in mostly-electric Ford Escape! I wish it was coming out sooner than 2012 before Obama with his nasty frown figures out a way to shut down Ford’s project. I also hope the interior has the choice of black instead of the tan only interior choice for the current 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid.

  • Kevin Conklin

    The look on Obama’s face came when the Ford Rep told him the Escape would not be made as an SUV in 2012 but as a (%#$#@ Crossover !

  • John Jacob

    I purchased a used 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid about a year ago. I average about 29 MPG during the winter and 32 MPG during the summer. I think this is a great vehicle. My wife and I both owned Honda Civic Hybrids before I traded mine in for the Escape. The Hondas are really good vechicles as well, but the ground clearance is too low for a lot of places in Colorado and the lack of 4 wheel drive made them less attractive for winter. We still have one Honda Civic hybrid.

    With my experience with this vehicle, I would definately buy another one and the plug in hybrid is probably what I will go for. I also think I’ll look at the Fusion when we replace the Honda. I’ve driven the non-hybrid version of the Fusion on a business trip and was very impressed with the vehicle.

  • Jack Donaldson

    We solarized our house two years ago and placed enough panals on the roof to meet all of our domestic usage and give us 10,000 miles worth of additional electricity for a plug in hybrid. The Escape Plug-in is the car we have been waiting for. Been following its development for five years. Most of my driving is under 30 miles every day. So with the domestic savings and the gas savings I’ll be getting a 12% return on the investment for solar energy.

    The Escape platform seems, to me, the best approach. Just so you know my wife drives a Prius, which is a little low for me, but still another great platform. Looking forward to purchasing the Escape PIH.

  • josh wang

    I am just wondering I have been talking to chevy about making there hybrid cars a lot more eco friendly and would like to extend that same courtious possibility if interested please contact the e-mail above

  • Dave H

    We have a 2001 Escape with 200k plus miles that we’ve been very happy with and it still gives us 25 mpg hwy. I’ve been thinking about an SUV hybrid and the new Escape hybrid coming out next year might be what the doctor ordered.

  • James B

    I was SO hoping to buy a Escape plug-in… /cry I guess Ford cannot make them profitable, even $6k over a normal model.

    Now Ford is dropping the whole idea? Get your 2012 if you want an Escape hybrid. The Eco-boost is a turbo charger, so don’t look to keep it a long time…

    Long live the Fusion?

  • Carol

    Maybe Obama’s not smiling because of this – ” Ford has a five-year supply agreement with the Johnson Controls-Saft, the US-French battery supplier…” I hope this doesn’t mean we plan to import the batteries.

  • Scott Kennelly

    I don’t think you get it. A plug-in hybrid IS and upgrade . . . and a reduction in cost at the same time! If you end up spending $100 less each month on gas, then you are getting a big discount, even if the price is the same. Even if the price is a few grand higher, as long as the payment is less than $100 more each month, you are saving money!

  • Sandy Kinsella

    I have been patiently awaiting the arrival of an Escape Hybrid plug in. I have the first Ford Escape Hybrid and really want a new one before I am uhealthy and unable to use. NOONE is able to look at me and give me a straight answer about it. Can you give me any accurate information about the future of the Escape Hybrid Plug In, PLEASE?

  • ACAgal

    It is now early 2012. Gas prices in CA are over $5/gal in some areas and about $4.60 in others, mostly because we are exporting a lot of it to cut our debts (same is true of coal, and will be of natural gas once the pipelines are built). There is no Ford PHEV for sale, the Prius has not been released either (I did ride in the PHEV concept – good rear leg/head room). The options are the Volt and the all EV Leaf.

    Your letter could be updated…..sounds like SiFi, in our current, SMOGGY expensive reality. Oh, some CA dealers have apparently been using the government credits themselves, and upping the costs of the Volt (LA Times story) a bundle.

  • David

    the plugable C-MAX Energi seems to the the plug in replacment being offered in the fall

  • Jazzenjohn

    The follow on for the Escape hybrid is going to be the C-Max and C-Max Energi. C-Max is Hybrid and Energi is Plug in hybrid. I work at the plant and we’re building them now. They are on the roads around here in Michigan for cold weather, and in Arizona for hot weather testing, But, they are not “sellable” units. They are for testing only. The C-Max’s are going to be available in the fall of this year I believe. I don’t know what the availability for the current Hybrid Escapes is right now.

  • tapra1

    Ford has a five-year supply agreement with the Johnson Controls-Saft, the US-French battery supplier led by Mary Ann Wright, the former Ford engineer behind the original Escape Hybrid.Fast Newsletter

  • Anonymous

    I agree, that’s clearly his “not bad” face

  • namita jagori

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  • robert pope

    The smaller the battery the better the vehicle dynamics. So I think a PIECE is missing from ford’s system, a battery extender. I have invented one, this is no trick it is phyics sound. The extender obeys the natural laws, is no forever machine. But can lower battery output by 150 amps per hour. Thus extending battery charge allowing higher speed and distance. This will change the whole setup needing to recalibrate battery size and distance you may go on electric only operation. The 20 mile range could be almost doubled. Sound interesting send me an email, I assure you this is for real. No crazy scheme at all.

  • jeromechiaro

    While the plug in hybrid car is still very new to public roads, we are sure to see an increasing amount of new models being released and charge points built. Quite simply, PHEV’s are a major way forward if we want to achieve lowered carbon emissions for future generations. Park homes

  • altonalvin

    I don’t think anybody thinks hybrid cars are what we’ll drive in future. But it provide good transition into other alternative fuel vehicle. This is the first time(last few years) these cars are mass produced and actually have sold significant numbers. Japon

  • LizNOLA

    I have been waiting and waiting for a car like this…

    I get around by bike or walk for short trips, and plan to use a larger vehicle for hauling things or people. I need something bigger than a Prius. I can’t go completely electric. I live in the Gulf Coast so I need to have a vehicle that I use to evacuate – sometimes you have to go a long way before you can get off the freeway.

    I wish the companies would do the hybrid-electric mix in small trucks. But, this Escape is a good option.

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  • Smtiah

    If the price is a few grand higher, as long as the payment is less than $100 more each month, you are saving money!

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