Ford Motor Co. is protesting pending California legislation that would give Japanese-built gasoline-electric cars special access to car pool lanes while excluding the U.S. automaker’s new Escape Hybrid sport/utility vehicle, according to an article in Bloomberg News. The bill would allow hybrids that get at least 45 miles per gallon to use “high-occupancy vehicle” lanes even with only the driver present. The legislation would allow access for Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius and Honda Motor Co.’s Insight and hybrid Civic, the only gas-electric vehicles now sold in the United States,. Based on EPA estimates, the Ford Escape Hybrid will generate 31 mpg on the highway. “Ford would not consider asking the California legislature to support a ‘Buy American’ law,” Ford Chief Executive William Clay Ford Jr. said in a letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We are chagrined to see that” the proposal “amounts to a ‘Buy Japanese’ bill.” The proposal has passed the Assembly, the lower house of the legislature. Senate approval would send the bill to Schwarzenegger, whose office wouldn’t immediately comment on the Ford letter. Ford would be at “a competitive disadvantage” under the California bill, Bill Ford said in the letter. In addition, the state has been awaiting clearance from the U.S. Transportation Department, since the proposal involves federal highways. Ford began building the gasoline-electric version of the Escape, the first hybrid SUV, at a plant near Kansas City, Mo. The California bill calls for permits for 75,000 owners of qualifying hybrid vehicles, according to the office of Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, sponsor of the legislation. Toyota’s Highlander and Lexus RX400h hybrid SUVs, slated for release early next year, and Honda’s gasoline-electric Accord sedan, which goes on sale late this year, won’t meet the state’s 45-mpg standard. Honda and Toyota say those hybrid models will have fuel economy similar to small sedans, or about 35 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials