Ford has announced a commitment to fit 80% to 90% of its Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models with electric power steering (EPS) systems by 2012, in an effort to improve the overall fuel economy, performance and reliability of the company's lineup.

The 2008 Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, and their respective hybrid spin-offs already have EPS. For 2009, the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ will also get EPS, with other new and refreshed vehicles, including the Ford Mustang, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, to follow over the next three years.

Ford said the EPS system in the Escape and Mariner is highly sophisticated with features such as active returnability and active damping that help correct for road irregularities and improve overall handling and steering feel.

EPS also improves fuel economy, because unlike the common hydraulic-powered systems that continuously draw power from the engine, EPS draws power from an independent electric motor only as needed. According to some estimates, this on-demand capability can equal up to a one-mile per gallon improvement in fuel efficiency. For the Escape, EPS - and a number of other new features and technologies - contribute to an 8% increase in fuel economy versus the previous model.

In western Europe 6.1m passenger cars and light trucks will be equipped with various EPS systems in 2007, up from 3.3m in 2003, according to just-auto.com. Ford estimates that EPS fitment in North America will increase approximately 36% by 2011.

"We have a very aggressive plan that by the time we finish with our migration in 2012, we will have a strong position as one of the leaders in this technology," says Brad Hochrein, Ford technical specialist, electrical steering.

"Fuel economy is now such a large issue in our country and is one of the main drivers of more efficient vehicle systems like EPS," added Hochrein.