Southwest Gas receives ethanol-fueled E85 Escape Hybrid from Ford

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Ford Motor Co.’s demonstration fleet of ethanol-fueled hybrids is ready to go to work on the streets of Las Vegas. On Monday, June 25, Ford’s Joe Castelli, director of commercial truck, handed over to Southwest Gas the keys to an E85 Escape Hybrid, which will be used in customer service applications.

Earlier this month, the first three E85 Escape Hybrids were delivered to the Department of Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association and the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition in Washington, D.C. A total of 20 Ford E85 Escape Hybrids will be delivered to select fleet customers in six states. Ford says these are the world’s first hybrid vehicles capable of operating on blends of fuel containing as much as 85 percent ethanol, which is a renewable fuel that can be produced from American-grown corn.

“This is a win-win for both Ford and Southwest Gas because the use of the E85 Escape Hybrid will enable Southwest Gas to receive credits toward EPACT mandates and increase their flexibility in vehicle fleet usage, while Ford will gain important technical knowledge as it’s being driven.” says Gerald Koss, fleet marketing manager for Ford Motor Co.

“Southwest Gas is pleased to work with Ford to promote the use of hybrid vehicles and implement measures that improve the quality of our environment,” says Randy Jackson, purchasing manager for Southwest Gas.

The E85 Escape Hybrid produces about 25 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gasoline-fueled Escape Hybrid. It also runs on a completely renewable fuel, which can help reduce this nation’s dependence on imported oil. A major challenge in the promotion of renewable fuel use is availability of infrastructure; less than 1 percent of the 170,000 retail gas stations in the country carry E85 ethanol, and Ford says expanding the availability of E85 is a critical element in moving America toward energy independence.

The Escape Hybrid E85 research project is a learning lab for Ford’s FFV programs for 2010 and beyond. Tailpipe emissions of flexible-fuel vehicles still represent one of the biggest challenges and priorities. Currently, no manufacturer’s FFV has been certified as a partial zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV). And a full-hybrid application presents even more evaporative challenges because the vehicle operates on electric power alone without actuating the evaporative vacuum system that operates when the gas engine is in use.

“Although we currently do not have plans to produce the Escape Hybrid E85, the research from this technology could lead to breakthroughs in even more advanced technologies,” Koss says.

Ford says it was the first to introduce a hybrid SUV with the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004. For 2008, hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan midsize sedans will join the lineup. Last year, the company produced 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles, including the Ford F-150 and the Lincoln Town Car. In addition to hybrids and flexible fuel vehicles, Ford also is committed to the development of other advanced alternative fuel technologies, including hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, clean diesel, advanced powertrains, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen combustion engines.