Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid Is Coming in 2019, But With How Much Range?

By · November 21, 2017

This is the conventional 2018 Ford Escape. A plug-in hybrid version will be offered in 2019.

Ford Motor Company is planning to reintroduce a plug-in hybrid version of the Escape crossover SUV in 2019, according to a report in Automotive News. That new plug-in hybrid will fill in a gap for electric car shoppers: an affordable crossover with a robust plug-in hybrid powertrain. The new plug-in Ford Escape will be accompanied by a plug-in-hybrid Lincoln MKC.

Other automakers are also seeking to target that potential sweet spot in the market—a relatively high-riding vehicle that provides space, creature comforts, and the ability to use little or no gasoline in typical driving. Mitsubishi announced last week that its Outlander Plug-in Hybrid will soon go on sale. The base price for the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid will be $34,595—establishing the vehicle as the most affordable plug-in SUV on the market (even as Mitsubishi has been plagued by delays for the Outlander). The Outlander Plug-in Hybrid will offer about 20 miles of all-electric range—as does the $53,000 2018 Volvo XC60 plug-in hybrid, which has been selling in lower numbers since July.

For Ford, it’s a matter of going back to the drawing board. In 2008, Ford began real-world testing of a prototype Ford Escape Plug-in hybrid that could travel 30 to 35 miles using little or no gas. After those 30 or so miles, the development vehicle reverted to working like a conventional Escape Hybrid, which at the time was the most fuel-efficient SUV currently on American roads.

How Much Range Is Enough for a Plug-in Hybrid?

Ford previously made the argument that owners of big-battery long-range EVs spend money on range capacity that seldom gets used. “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,” said Greg Frenette, the former lead engineer in Ford’s Escape Plug-in testing program.

This would suggest that the upcoming Escape Plug-in Hybrid will deliver less than 30 miles on a single charge. However, EV economics and consumer expectations has changed quickly. Five years ago, GM was also making the argument for plug-in hybrids with about 20 miles of range (while offering the first-generation Volt that provided 38 miles on a charge).

“Why 20 miles? Because we want you to come home empty. We want you to use it all every time you go out,” said Larry Nitz, GM executive director of hybrid powertrain engineering. GM more recently changed the philosophy with the Chevy Bolt, a small EV officially rated to go 238 miles on a single charge—as well as the plug-in hybrid Volt increasing its range to 53 miles on a charge.

We don’t know yet if Ford will also evolve its approach by emphasizing the confidence of having a surplus of electric range that often doesn’t get used, rather than focusing on stricter economics. Its decision could determine the success not only of the Escape Plug-in Hybrid in 2019 but Ford’s upcoming wave of “electrified” vehicles. In January 2017, the company announced plans to offer as many as 13 so-called electrified vehicles in the next five years, including a hybrid Ford Mustang, hybrid F-150, and a long-range battery-electric crossover.

"They're at a critical point in their strategy, and that's trying to balance today and tomorrow," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. "You don't want to go all in on EVs at this point because that's not going to pay the bills and keep the lights on today, but you also don't want to get behind."

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