Ford Motor Co. officially kicked off production on Aug. 5 of a hybrid version of the Escape SUV, the world’s first gas-electric hybrid sport/utility vehicle and the first hybrid vehicle produced by an American automaker, according to the Associated Press. Bill Ford, Ford’s chairman and chief executive officer, drove the Escape into a roomful of workers at the company’s plant in suburban Kansas City, which will build 20,000 of the vehicles in the 2005-model year. Company officials said demand for the new Escape, which starts at $26,300, about $3,300 more than the regular Escape, has been huge, with some dealers in California already taking orders and amassing waiting lists of 80 or more people. Ford is already looking for ways to boost output of the Escape hybrid. “We’re working with key suppliers to find ways to notch it up,” Ford COO James Padilla said at an industry conference in Traverse City, Mich.