Ford has announced it woill sell a petrol-electric hybrid version of the Ford Escape small sport utility vehicle at a loss while it tries to halve the costs of the hybrid system, Reuters reported. "We have to subsidise the price of the hybrid technology," Prabhakar Patil, chief program engineer for the hybrid Escape, set to go on sale late this year, told Reuters. "We feel it's important to get in the market for this technology and get feedback from customers." According to Reuters, the hybrid Escape, the first such vehicle to hit the market from a Detroit car maker, will have a combined fuel economy of 35 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 mpg in highway driving. The four-cylinder base model Escape averages 23 mpg in city and 28 mpg on the highway; executives claim the hybrid Escape's performance will match that of the V6 model. Reuters noted that Ford has cancelled plans for a hybrid version of its Explorer SUV, but chairman and chief executive Bill Ford has said the firm was committed to building more hybrid models. According to Reuters, Toyota has been the leader in the market so far, and has set a target of selling 300,000 hybrid vehicles by 2005. According to Reuters, Patil said several factors would determine how much Ford charges for the hybrid system. Those include whether customers could get federal tax credits for the vehicle, in what parts of the country Ford will sell the models and how much hybrid sales could improve Ford's corporate fuel economy averages. Patil also said Ford would make a profit on the system if it could halve its costs. Ford engineers said the cost of the system could drop quickly if volumes rise and more vehicle makers rely on similar parts. According to Reuters, the first hybrid Escapes will be sold to fleet customers, while a version for retail buyers won't be available until the middle of next year. Ford executives told the news agaency that, apart from a small "HYBRID" badge on the rear tailgate, there'll be no exterior differences between a hybrid Escape and a regular model.