With reporting from the Associated Press.
Ford Motor Company is rolling the new 2013 Escape SUVs off the line and into dealerships this week.
Ford officials joined Mayor Greg Fischer and Gov. Steve Beshear Wednesday morning to announce the much anticipated launch of the new Escape, which was named the best selling SUV in the nation with over 250,000 sales last year. Ford officials say small SUVs like the Escape are the only vehicles that have returned to pre-recession sales levels.
Ford invested $600 million dollars in the Louisville Assembly Plant, adding 1,800 jobs and a weekend shift began earlier this year. Future hires will depend on the market, but the company expects to hire 1,300 more employees for a third shift this fall, Ford officials said.
The Louisville Assembly Plant can manufacture six different models, but officials will not say if that's ever likely to happen.
“Ultimately the consumer decides the demand. The great news is when we add the third shift on we have the capability of running three shifts, seven days a week here, and we can produce up to 350,000 Escapes. So we’ll see how that goes,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas.
Mayor Greg Fischer calls the assembly plant the most advanced auto manufacturing plant in the world. Over 1,000 new “robots” were installed during renovation.
Fischer said Ford's investment in the area is a not just a success story for the Louisville region, and he said the compromise from the United Auto Workers union, which helped bring Ford jobs back to the U.S., is a new model for the industry.
“It's part of the renaissance of American manufacturing,” said Fischer.
Gov. Beshear touted Ford’s investment, and said there are 70,000 auto-related jobs, including suppliers, in the commonwealth.
“You know we like to say in Kentucky that we’re coming out of the recession one job at a time. Well today I’m happy to say we’re coming out of this recession creating thousands of jobs at a time,” he said.
When Escape SUVs arrive at dealers this month they will have a base price just over $22,000, but extra features could cost thousands more.
Escape sales are down 2 percent this year as Ford transitions to the new models, but sales are expected to rise in the second half of 2012.
Analyst are optimistic that SUV sales will continue to rise to 18 percent of all car sales by 2015.
Here are some specs:
- FUEL ECONOMY: Rated 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Ford says one of its engines can get up to 33 mpg on the highway.
- SEATING AND CARGO: Seats five. Has 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row.
- HORSEPOWER: Ford is offering three different four-cylinder engines that get 168 horsepower, 178 horsepower or 240 horsepower.
- OPTIONS: New features include a lift gate that opens automatically when the driver kicks a foot under the rear bumper, and a system that automatically parallel parks the car.
- CHEERS AND JEERS: The new, more aerodynamic styling will win some customers and could steal some sales from rivals. But the Escape gets pricey when you add features. The top-of-the-line Titanium version starts at $30,370, and that doesn't include a sunroof ($1,400 extra) or a backup camera ($995 extra).