Ford ultimately intends to become the destination for hybrid vehicles. Kris Spencer - Ford Communications - June 2, 2006 DEARBORN, Demand for the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid is mounting as gas prices escalate and customers gain greater awareness of hybrid benefits. Ford's hybrid sales are up 55 percent for the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2005, according to George Pipas, manager, Sales Analysis and Reporting. In the past two months, combined sales of the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid sales were double the same period last year. "Fuel economy is top of mind with many consumers and the Escape Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet," said Barry Redler, Ford SUV Group marketing manager. "Also, our 0 percent APR financing has made full SUV functionality and the benefits of a hybrid even more affordable." Increased consumer demand has dealer hybrid inventory below a 25-day supply at the end of May. In key hybrid markets such as California and Washington, D.C., the supply remains even lower. "The Escape Hybrid has been very profitable for our dealership," said Andy Hong, general manager, Hollywood Ford in California. "We simply can't keep them in stock to meet the demand." Ed Witt, owner of a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in San Diego, said demand for the Mercury Hybrid has outstripped supply in recent months. "Having a hybrid gives our brand panache," Witt said. "People like the vehicle when they see it, but they don't expect to find a hybrid at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. That's why we've got to toot that horn a lot." Redler said the sales increase is not just a by-product of rising fuel costs, but also higher consumer awareness of Ford hybrid vehicles. Starting with an ad campaign in February featuring Kermit the Frog, Ford has escalated its efforts to place hybrids front and center in consumers' minds. In April, Ford introduced 0 percent financing for up to 60 months on the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid, to make them more economical for customers. "As more consumers become aware of the benefits of a Hybrid vehicle and they become more affordable, the market for them grows," Redler said. "Dealers are already inquiring about whether we're coming out with other hybrid models. Interest is definitely peaking." Al Giombetti, president of Ford and Lincoln Mercury, says the market is strong for hybrids, provided they are attainable and affordable. "More and more consumers want to improve their fuel economy, both to save money at the pump and to limit the social and environmental impacts of oil consumption," said Giombetti. "Offering up to an 80 percent increase in fuel economy, up to $5,925 in tax incentives, and an affordable purchase price makes the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid very compelling for consumers.” Escape Hybrid was the first full-hybrid SUV on the market, and remains the industry's most fuel-efficient SUV The front-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid returns 36 miles per gallon in the city - an 80 percent improvement over an Escape V-6. Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid also meet the most stringent emissions standard achievable by a vehicle that uses fossil fuel, California's AT-PZEV standard. Local tax credits available to the hybrid customers, which in some states can total as much as $5,925 in tax credits are making hybrids more attractive. Some states also offer hybrid drivers other perks, such as HOV lane access, free parking and insurance discounts. Ford has committed to producing up to 250,000 hybrids a year globally by 2010. The company also plans to offer hybrid technology in at least eight vehicles, including: Ford Escape, Fusion, Five Hundred, and Edge; Mercury Mariner, Milan, Montego; and Lincoln MKX. "The Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid have established a hybrid leadership position for the company, in terms of both technological expertise and customer awareness," said Giombetti. "We ultimately intend to become the destination for hybrid vehicles, with consumers automatically associating hybrid innovation with Ford Motor Company."