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NEW York International Auto Show Manhattan success paves way for more Ford hybrids

A PETROL-electric sport utility model gave the green light to more hybrid Ford vehicles when it passed an economy test with flying colours in downtown New York.

The super-clean version of the Escape SUV covered 576 miles criss-crossing Manhattan's traffic-clogged streets in a real-time assessment of its fuel-saving potential in extreme city driving conditions.

By the time its 15 US-gallon tank ran dry, the car had returned an average of more than 38mpg – a 75% improvement on the standard petrol model.

Company chairman Bill Ford said: 'This proves we've finally come up with the no-compromise proposition and it will not be the last car to use this powertrain technology.

In addition to the new mid-size hybrid sedan we're developing, we will also offer a hybrid version of the Mercury Mariner SUV in 2006.'

Speaking at the New York International Auto Show immediately following the 37-hour test, Ford said he had asked the company's sustainable mobility technologies team to push ahead with other innovations.

'We've got as close to zero emissions as you can get in a car that gives you everything. People are concerned about rising fuel prices, but they still want the advantages of owning SUVs. This is the answer,' he said.

Executive vice-president Jim Padilla added: 'The experience gained in developing the Escape Hybrid gives us a huge advantage over most of the industry and it's a lead we intend to maintain.

'By the end of next year, we will have more clean vehicles on the road than any other manufacturer and most of them will be certified to a level twice as clean as the US government's ultra low emission standard.

'Hybrids are a major step toward our plans for a hydrogen-powered future.'

A US market-only model, the Escape Hybrid, mates a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with a 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery operating via a system that automatically chooses the best power method for any driving situation.

The battery boosts the engine during acceleration and is recharged during braking.

To go on sale later this year, the model is expected to cost around £2,000 more than the standard car.

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