Detroit - Ford is planning to launch a new petrol-electric hybrid car that will compete directly with the popular Toyota Prius, according to inside sources.
Due in late 2018, the compact car will be Ford's first “dedicated” hybrid - that is a vehicle designed to be marketed exclusively as a hybrid, rather than a variation of an existing model, such as the Fusion hybrid. The as-yet-unnamed vehicle will be built in Michigan.
The sources said Ford might eventually offer many different body styles of the new hybrid, as Toyota does with the Prius. There would also be different versions of the car's petrol-electric drivetrain, including a more expensive plug-in model that can be recharged from an electrical outlet.
The new Ford hybrid is expected to arrive as a 2019 model, roughly 21 years after the introduction of the original Prius in Japan. Toyota is planning to unveil its fourth-generation Prius late next year, the sources said.
Some of the hybrid technology, including electric motors, controllers and batteries, will be adapted from Ford's current hybrid models, although the dedicated 2019 model is expected to provide better fuel economy and range than today's hybrids.
The 2019 model, which carries the internal code C240, will be built on Ford's new C2 global compact architecture, which also will underpin the next-generation Focus and Escape, the sources said.
Ford, like other major global carmakers, has been investing heavily in hybrid technology to meet increasingly stringent emissions and fuel economy standards in North America, Europe and Asia. But consumer demand for hybrids hasn't come close to meeting the industry's sales projections.
Sales of GM’s plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, have been just 10 635 vehicles through the first seven months of this year, down 9 percent from a year ago, despite heavy dealer discounts.
The Prius remains the leading hybrid in global markets, with worldwide sales having topped 400 000 last year.
Part of the success of Prius has been attributed to Toyota's efforts to build its “green” car into a branded family of different hybrid models, from the tiny Prius C hatchback to the van-like Prius V.