The 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid will likely be the last year for Ford's original hybrid vehicle, launched way back in October 2004.

At the end of July, Ford had sold 98,500 Escape Hybrids, more than half its total sales of 139,700 hybrids of all types.

But all good things must come to an end. For 2012, the Escape will be completely redesigned for the first time since 2000.

And in line with Ford's "world car" approach, the new Escape will be essentially the same vehicle as the slightly smaller next-generation Ford Kuga, now sold only in Europe.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

The Ford Escape Hybrid is manufactured alongside its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling at Ford’s Kansas City plant

Escape Hybrid will carry on

Will there be a hybrid version of the new Escape? We're confident that there will. While the well-received 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan has been in the limelight lately, Ford made its name on the strengths of the compact crossover Escape Hybrid.

In fact, the 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid just might be the first Ford to use a lithium-ion battery pack, which holds roughly twice the energy per pound of the older nickel-metal-hydride packs it's used in all its hybrids to date.

That means a smaller, lighter pack (or perhaps more all-electric range, though we think that's less likely).

Befitting its role as the first U.S.-built hybrid, the next Escape (including hybrid model) will be built domestically, most probably in the company's Louisville, Kentucky, plant.

Later, there may also be a much more luxurious Lincoln version of the same Kuga-based crossover, just as the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is essentially a Ford Fusion Hybrid underneath.

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

Kuga? Escape? Kuga? Escape?

The big question: Will it be called the Escape, or the Kuga? While global model names have their advantages, we think the U.S. market will hang onto the Escape name.

The crossover has a good reputation and many satisfied owners, not to mention that Kuga sounds confusingly like Cougar, the former sporty coupe from Ford's now-departed Mercury brand.

The Kuga shares a platform with the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus compact sedan and hatchback, giving Ford huge global economies of scale. And Ford has said it's developing all its platforms to accommodate multiple powertrains: gasoline, diesel, hybrid, and electric.

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

2005 Ford Escape Hybrid

Other hybrid possibilities

Which raises an interesting question: Might there be a Focus Hybrid somewhere in the cards? We think it's less likely. The Focus will get far better gas mileage than the heavier, less aerodynamic crossover, meaning the Escape benefits more from the hybrid's higher  efficiency.

We do expect a Kuga Hybrid to be offered to European buyers, however--Ford's first hybrid to be sold in Europe.  The company announced in May that it would outfit a plant in Valencia, Spain, to build hybrid and electric vehicles. So far, they've all been U.S.-built.

With an Escape Hybrid coming, it would cost Ford almost nothing to add a Kuga variation, which could prove popular for European buyers whose gasoline costs twice as much. (Though the diesel Kuga that Ford sells there will not be offered Stateside.)

Updates for 2011 Escape Hybrid

Meanwhile, Ford continues to update the outgoing 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid. For 2010, it added electric air-conditioning, so the hybrid could switch off when at a standstill even if the AC was operating.

For 2011, the Escape adds a handful of new features, including a rear-view camera system, the programmable MyKey system aimed at teen drivers and their parents, and high-definition radio.

[Ford Motor Company, Automotive News (subscription required), other sources]