2008 Detroit Auto Show: Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid

  • Looks like: A regular Escape with an electric outlet on the front fender
  • Defining characteristics: It plugs into your wall for a charge and gets the equivalent of 100 mpg
  • Ridiculous features: We still have to wait to buy one
  • Chance of being mass-produced: Mass is a relative term; this is a prototype, and maybe someday before the end of the decade we’ll see it at a dealership

Ford is showcasing the prototype for its plug-in hybrid program in Detroit. It’s not really a concept and it’s not really production-ready. Instead, it’s one of the vehicles being tested by utility company Southern California Edison. We talked to Greg Frenette, the chief engineer of the Escape Plug-In, and he said this is indeed one of several Escape plug-ins being tested on real roads in the program. The full program will involve 20 Escapes.

The prototypes are basically the same vehicle as a standard 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid — the interiors are completely finished as well — but with a few differences. An outlet over the driver’s-side fender accepts a common 110- or 220-volt household plug that charges the SUV’s lithium-ion battery over six hours to deliver a 30-mile range on electric power alone. Then, a gas engine kicks in to charge the electric motor, producing an equivalent 100 mpg. Frenette said they’ve been testing the prototypes since early December, and so far they're returning 120 mpg in stop-and-go driving and roughly 70-80 mpg in highway driving.

Those numbers are still preliminary, but if a commute is short — 30 miles or so — drivers could drive most of the way on electric power alone, with the gas engine/generator kicking in only if the charge runs out.

Working with the electric company is critical to the program, Frenette said. Testing the impact of plugging in so many cars on an electric grid is touchy stuff. However, the utility is predicting it could handle the power needs of the equivalent of 85% of the cars on the road now turning to plug-in power.

There's still a lot of research that needs to be done on peak hours and how to use the plug-in as part of a home full of appliances. There’s even potential for the plug-in to serve as an emergency generator. Frenette, though, was optimistic that after more testing and battery development, the Escape Plug-In Hybrid could be on roads in the very near future. More photos below.