Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F - news) will increase the fuel economy of its Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) fleet in the United States by 25 percent by the 2005 calendar year.

The commitment covers the company's entire SUV line-up, including the vehicles of Land Rover, Ford's most recent automotive acquisition. Other products in the SUV line-up include: Ford Explorer, Expedition and Excursion, Mercury Mountaineer, Lincoln Navigator, and the newly introduced Ford Escape.

"We are taking this very significant action with some of our most popular products because it is the right thing to do for our customers and for our stockholders," said Jac Nasser, president and chief executive officer. "It is the next logical step in our 'Cleaner, Safer, Sooner' campaign, which we began with the announcement two-and-a-half years ago that all Ford Motor Company Sport Utility Vehicles would be low emission vehicles."

"SUV customers are asking for more fuel efficient vehicles. Our strategy is to maintain and enhance the function of their SUVs while making substantial fuel economy improvements," Nasser said. "This is customer-driven environmental responsibility. We aren't asking our customers to compromise safety, performance or functionality."

"This initiative also responds to a growing societal objective, strengthens Ford Motor Company's environmental leadership role, and supports our corporate citizenship policies," he added.

Nasser announced the fuel economy commitment during a speech today at the National Press Club.

Under its "Cleaner, Safer, Sooner" pledge, Ford Motor Company has stated it will make significant improvements to its products in the areas of safety and environment when the technology is available, the action is affordable, and when the application cat be done in large volume for maximum positive impact.

About 70 percent of the fuel economy gains will be achieved through improvements in existing vehicle lines, including the application of advanced powertrain technologies, weight reductions, and improved aerodynamics. The other 30 percent of improvements will come from new entries into the market like the Escape and Escape Hybrid.

On existing products, a systems engineering approach will be used, with improvements being made across the board in both powertrain and non-powertrain areas. Applied technologies will include some of the ideas developed in Ford's Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) activity.

The company estimates that the average Ford SUV buyer will use 1,700 fewer gallons of gasoline through the life of their vehicle, saving more than $2,400 in fuel costs.

In addition to its fuel economy commitment in the U.S., Ford also has voluntarily made all its SUVs and the Windstar minivan low emission vehicles as of the 1999 model year. The company made a similar commitment with F-Series pickups, as of the 2000 model year. There presently are more than 2.5 million Ford SUVs and trucks on the road in the U.S. meeting the government's low emission requirement years ahead of the regulatory timetable.