Can fuel efficient SUVs live up to the hype?

Seamus Holman

The upcoming rollout of Ford's hybrid SUV will be the first (American?) application of hybrid technology to an SUV. The fuel efficiency is rated at 36 mpg, which would be pretty astounding for an SUV. I'm particularly impressed that Ford had the foresight to license tech for the vehicle from Toyota (via the popular Prius), setting up the possibility of a standard manufacturing process. Though they'll market to the same audience as the Prius, I wonder if steadily rising gas prices may open up a wider market to fuel efficient vehicles. Two big upsides for mainstream acceptance: the Escape Hybrid looks (and performs?) like a typical SUV, and Ford is an American company. At up to 40 mpg in the city, a Chicago resident would save hundreds of dollars a year, not including the $4,000 tax credit (I wonder if you could get the SUV credit, too?). Ford certainly has a long way to go before establishing any credibility on fuel economy. And at nearly $30,000, it's way too expensive to justify the cool factor (or the gas savings). I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of competition will challenge the Escape Hybrid for mind-share among the tens of millions of SUV owners. And whether or not efficient SUVs can overcome their long-standing (and well-justified) stigma among environmentally conscious consumers.

After three years of art directing In These Times--and nine years of living and studying in the Midwest--I returned to the northwest in 2005 to start Gridwork and focus solely on web design.

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