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Ford to roll out Explorer Hybrid in push for more electric vehicles

South Shore Clean Cities Executive Director Carl Lisek, left, and Ford's Brian Arvila speak, along with Ford Commercial Manager Jody Slucker, at the South Shore Clean Cities Annual Meeting and Awards at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City on Tuesday.

The Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch will start production this year of a new Explorer Hybrid as Ford makes a push to get more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker looks to invest $11 billion in electric and hybrid vehicles over the next few years, Brian Arvila, Ford Motor Co. fleet sustainability and tech manager, told South Shore Clean Cities at its annual meeting in Michigan City Tuesday. Ford plans to offer a fleet of 15 battery electric vehicles and 40 electrified vehicles by 2022.

"Ford's strategy is to play to our strengths, which are commercial vehicles, trucks, utilities and performance products," Arvila said. "We're going to be building electric vehicles off our iconic nameplates and offer zero-compromise battery vehicles. In addition, we're going to leverage Ford's scale and build a business model that takes the whole electric vehicle chain into account. Ford is not focusing on cheap, entry-level economy vehicles."

In the United States, Ford will focus on making hybrid vehicles of its best-known products, such as the F-150, Explorer and Mustang, Arvila said. The automaker is working on an electric battery for SUVs with a range of 300 miles.

"Despite all our plans right now, we're fairly limited on what we offer to our customers," Arvila said. "We have police vehicles that are hybrid, both the Police Interceptor Sedan and the Police Interceptor Utility. It has very similar performance to the outgoing gasoline version. Horsepower's comparable. The HEV will have 318 horsepower compared to about 304 horsepower on the gas product that's being replaced. Torque is slightly less at 260 foot-lbs. compared to 279 foot-lbs."

Arvila said hybrid version of the popular police SUV, which is produced at the Chicago Assembly Plant on the Calumet River, is ideal for environmentally conscious cities and states and saves money as well on fuel. 

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At an average gas price of $2.75 per gallon, the hybrid police vehicle would save $3,509 a year. Ford estimates a hybrid could save up to $34,452 over the course of a six-year lifespan, if gas prices climb above $4 a gallon.

"Typically, it will make that upcharge back within the first year of operations," Arvila said. "It's great for the environment and you save a lot of money."

Ford will roll out its hybrid versions of the Explorer and the Escape SUVs to dealership lots later this year, and the F-150 next year, at a time when auto sales have eclipsed 17 million units in the United States for five straight years.

The automaker had a good 2018 and expects even higher vehicle sales in 2019, Ford Commercial Manager Jody Slucker said.

"As Ford looks forward to 2019, we look at leading economic indicators," Slucker said. "Interest rates are rising but at a moderate pace. Unemployment is low. Our housing starts are not exactly where we want them to be, but overall consumer confidence is very high. So at Ford we're projecting in 2019 our sales will be just slightly up over 2018, and 2018 was a pretty good year."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.