Ford debuts 2020 Escape PHEV

A potential fire risk has led Ford to delay the launch of its new Escape PHEV until sometime in 2021.

A series of fires involving one of its European models has led Ford to delay production of two plug-in hybrid models that were originally supposed to go on sale this year until sometime in 2021.

The decision to postpone the launch of the Ford Escape PHEV will be accompanied by a similar pushback for the Lincoln Corsair Touring model, learned. Both plug-ins share the same basic drivetrain, including the batteries, used by the Ford Kuga PHEV. That European crossover has been recalled because of a problem that could cause its batteries to catch fire.

“We are moving full scale production of Escape PHEV to the 2021 model year,” a Ford spokesman said, adding the company is working with its suppliers to address the issue.

(Ford’s new Escape plug-in hybrid gets 100 MPGe, 37 miles of EV range.)

This marks the second setback in the planned rollout for the Escape PHEV, which originally was expected to be on sale by now. The earlier delay was the result of the COVID-19 pandemic which forced Ford – like the rest of the U.S. auto industry – to shut down production for two months. The Corsair, however, was always scheduled for a later launch, with sales set to begin late this year.

The potential fire problem was first discovered affecting the European version of the Escape, the Ford Kuga PHEV.

Now, said a spokesperson for the Lincoln brand, “We, too, are moving our production to next year.”

Ford and Lincoln officials declined to provide specific details as to when the two U.S. plug-in hybrids will now begin production. The dates could be fluid, one company official said on background, depending upon the need to develop a fix for the problem.

Both the Escape and Corsair plug-ins will be assembled on the same assembly line at a Ford plant in Kentucky. They share the same basic drivetrain package with the Kuga that is assembled and sold in Europe. It pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle inline-4 gas engine with a permanent-magnet-synchronous motor drawing power from a 14.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The problem with the Kuga appears to have been caused by a fault permitting its battery packs to vent gas which, in turn, could overheat and catch fire.

(EVs on track to triple European market share this year.)

The Lincoln Corsair Touring model, which shares the same plug-in drive system as the Escape and Kuga, also is being delayed.

Such a problem is not unique to Ford. A number of other automakers have, during the past decade, experienced fires involving lithium-ion battery packs. That includes Tesla which was forced to harden the casing around its batteries to reduce the risk of damage during a crash that could cause its batteries to catch fire.

Just last week, Hyundai expanded a recall of its own to address a potential defect involving its Kona EV models — a problem that could cause battery fires. And U.S. regulators have launched a probe into reports of fires involving the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

According to Ford, seven fires have been linked to the problem with the Kuga PHEV, though there have been no injuries or deaths. About 20,500 of the plug-in versions have been recalled in Europe. The Kuga, in its various forms, is Ford’s most popular vehicle in Europe.

European motorists have begun embracing electrified vehicles in a big way, sales of plug-based models increasing to about 8% of the market this year, roughly triple last year’s share.

Demand for battery-based products in the U.S. is lower, but has been growing as more models come to market. Ford has been especially bullish about its electrified models, planning to invest $11.5 billion to develop hybrids, PHEVs and pure battery-electric vehicles through 2022. It was planning to launch an assortment of offerings this year, including the Escape and Corsair plug-ins, the bigger Lincoln Aviator Touring PHEV, and the all-electric Mustang Mach-E.

(EVs cost half as much as gas-powered cars for maintenance.)

Neither the Aviator nor the Mach-E are affected by the issues involving the Escape, Corsair and Kuga, according to Ford.

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