October - December 2004 Sierran

Sierra Club Applauds Hybrid Ford Escape
By Jill Miller
Missouri Conservation Organizer
Sierra Club-Global Warming & Energy Program

On August 4 near Kansas City, labor and environmental groups joined forces to applaud the new Ford Escape Hybrid as good for jobs and the environment.

National, chapter, and group Sierra Club representatives held a press conference with the United Autoworkers, Steelworkers, The Ecology Center, Burroughs Audubon of Kansas City, the Institute for Labor Studies, and the Apollo Alliance to spread the word about the importance of fuel-saving technology. The press conference produced dozens of media hits in Kansas City and around the country, from Hawaii to New York.

The new Escape is the first American-made hybrid, and also the first hybrid SUV to reach the market. The 35 mile-per-gallon Escape is rated as a Partial-Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) and meets California’s strict air pollution standards — something most people never expected to hear about any SUV. It emits a fraction of the air pollution of a regular SUV, and greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically lower as well.

Dave Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Program in Washington, D.C., spoke at the press conference, calling Ford’s hybrid “a rolling advertisement for better technology and a cleaner environment.” He acknowledged that the Sierra Club has been a long-time critic of the U.S. auto industry’s inaction on improving the fuel economy of cars and light trucks, but “you have to give credit where credit is due”.

Just as importantly, the hybrid Escape will help retain good jobs at Ford’s Claycomo assembly plant where the Escape is manufactured. The Claycomo plant employs over 5,600 members of UAW Local 249.

“The introduction of U.S.-made hybrids and other fuel-efficient technologies are essential to staying competitive, which will help the industry create and preserve good union jobs while also protecting the environment,” said Mike Perry of UAW Local 249.

Hybrids have both a gasoline engine and an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. Braking and coasting recharge the battery, so it never needs to be plugged in. Like Toyota’s hugely popular Prius hatchback, the hybrid Escape’s systems work independently as well as together. The gasoline engine can disengage completely until needed for a boost in acceleration in city driving, or for traveling at steady highway speeds.

Although hybrids are still thought of as a niche market in the U.S., there’s evidence of strong demand for hybrid vehicles. The 2004 Toyota Prius, named Car of the Year by Motor Trend and Car and Driver, is the fastest-selling vehicle in America. In fact, there are waiting lists of 6 months to more than a year at dealerships around the country. Toyota has stepped up production. Foreign manufacturers sold more than 43,000 hybrids in 2003. That number is expected to double in 2004 and reach 350,000 units by 2008.

With new hybrid models becoming available in the next 6 to 12 months, more and more Americans will be able to find the kind of hybrid they want to drive. Upcoming models include the hybrid Honda Accord, Toyota Highlander, and Lexus RX 400H. A hybrid version of Honda’s Civic, and their two-seat Insight, have been available for a few years.

The press conference was followed by an informational forum titled “The New Hybrid: Good Union Jobs and a Cleaner Environment”. Speakers at the forum presented information about fuel-saving technologies besides hybrids, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources, plus a discussion of energy policies that benefit workers and the environment. A session on blue-green organizing (see related article), served as a terrific kick-off to building and strengthening Sierra Club’s goals here in Missouri.

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Take Action!

Ford plans to produce just 20,000 units of the hybrid Escape. The Sierra Club is encouraging Ford to build many more hybrids in order to cut emissions that contribute to global warming. Send CEO Bill Ford, Jr. an email today! Go to www.sierraclub.org/takeaction.

To be part of future hybrid tours and local events in your area, please contact St. Louis-based Sierra Club organizer Jill Miller at (314) 645-2032 or email jill.miller@sierraclub.org.