According to Reuters, Ford will start production of hybrid gas-electric versions of its Escape sport utility vehicle in July 2004, with a target of selling 10,000 to 20,000 a year, company executives said.The report noted that Ford has yet to set prices for the hybrid Escape, which may achieve fuel economy of up to 40 miles per gallon in city driving, but added that program managers at a media briefing and test drive said the hybrid Escape would be profitable though the full cost of developing the hybrid system would not be shouldered by Escape buyers.Reuters said the hybrid Escape uses an electric motor and battery pack as an additional power source for its four-cylinder engine. The batteries charge when the vehicle cruises or brakes, and the electric motor eases the load on the gasoline engine under acceleration.The hybrid Escape will be built on the same assembly line in Claycomo, Missouri, that builds regular Escapes. A front-wheel-drive hybrid Escape should achieve 35 mpg to 40 mpg in city driving and 29 to 31 mpg in highway driving, compared with 19 mpg and 25 mpg ratings for a V6 powered Escape, the report added.Phil Martens, Ford's group vice president of product creation, told Reuters it was necessary for Ford to develop its own hybrid system because it needed expertise to build even more advanced vehicles in the future, such as hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars.While the company considered buying a hybrid system from Toyota, "We didn't want to avoid the process of learning about this technology," Martens told Reuters, adding: "To us, it’s a building block to the future."According to Reuters, Martens said the Escape's hybrid system was designed to be easily adapted to other models. Ford has said it will sell a hybrid version of its upcoming Futura sedan, but Martens declined to say what other hybrid models Ford might offer.