Ford Motor Co. announced on September 22 that its new gasoline-electric hybrid sport utility vehicle will not be available by year's end to fleet customers as originally planned so that the automaker can conduct internal testing, a Ford spokeswoman told the Associated Press. Angela Coletti said initial plans called for a limited number of hybrid Escape SUVs to be delivered to fleet customers by the end of 2003 for external testing. But Ford has decided to do the testing internally and will launch the hybrid Escape for fleet purposes late next summer, the same time it debuts the SUV for retail customers. “There’s a more efficient use of our resources to conduct that same testing internally,” Coletti said. "Externally or internally, it will generate the same data." Ford unveiled the Escape hybrid earlier this year at the New York International Auto Show. At the time, the world's second-largest automaker said the vehicle would be available in low volumes for fleet sales late this year and ready for retail production in the second half of 2004. The hybrid system in the front-wheel-drive Escape allows the vehicle to get 35 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving, compared with 19 miles per gallon in a 2003 Escape with a V6 engine. Coletti said Ford already is conducting durability and fuel-efficiency testing on the hybrid Escapes “from Boston to San Francisco.”