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The Ford Escape compact sport utility, including its hybrid model, is now long in the tooth or beyond. It was first introduced as a 2001 model, and has been restyled twice. It still sells well, though, and Ford continues to update the hybrid model. Nonetheless, it's overdue for replacement.
Now, word has leaked out that Ford will not only replace the Escape for 2012 with the European Kuga crossover that went on sale in 2008, but will build the vehicles in Louisville, Kentucky, for both the North American market and for export to Europe.
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The Louisville plant now makes the old Explorer midsize sport utility, which will be replaced by a car-based crossover for 2012. It is expected to send as many as 80,000 Kugas to Europe, replacing production from a factory in Germany that is now much more expensive than the U.S. In July 2008, Ford said the plant would start building vehicles "from the global C-car platform" in 2011.
Ford thus joins BMW and Mercedes-Benz in building sport utilities for much of the world in the U.S., where their sales are greater than in any other region.
The Kuga is roughly the same size as the Escape, and is offered with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive, as well as an array of several gasoline and diesel engines.
Only gasoline engines are likely to be offered in the U.S. market, but our most pressing question is whether the hybrid model will continue. We believe it will, since the Escape Hybrid has a good reputation, solid sales in the ultra-demanding taxi cab market, and holds the crown for the first U.S.-built hybrid, way back in 2004.
Ford hybrids have been on a roll lately, with the addition of the well-received 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid midsize sedan increasing sales of the carmaker's greenest vehicles. Honda, meanwhile, hasn't done as well as it hoped with its 2010 Honda Insight hybrid subcompact. Ford's hybrid sales rose 73 percent through September, to 26,016 vehicles, whereas Honda rose just 8 percent to 29,958 over the same period.
No word thus far on whether the Escape name will survive, or whether Ford will move to consistent badging worldwide by making the vehicle a Kuga even in the U.S. We're betting Escape sticks around ... but don't hold us to that, OK?