Ford reportedly is delaying the US launch of its plug in hybrid Escape sport utility vehicle to 2021 after thousands of similar SUVs in Europe were recalled for problems involving fires while recharging.

Bloomberg News said the Escape plug-in hybrid originally was scheduled to go into North American production last spring but Ford changed it to summer after the coronavirus pandemic shut factories for two months. Now the automaker is postponing the model launch to 2021 as it reviews issues with the European market Kuga variant which shares battery and engine with the Escape.

"We're moving production to next year while we investigate what happened to the Kuga in Europe," Ford spokesman Mike Levine told Bloomberg. "None have been sold in the US."

The report noted Ford's Louisville, Kentucky, plant last year began building redesigned Escape models with petrol and self-charging hybrid powertrains.

Bloomberg noted the delay launching the PHEV came amid muted demand for the Escape after US sales plunged almost 23% in the third quarter and were down 32% this year.

"We have some availability problems" with low inventory on certain models, Mark LaNeve, Ford's US marketing chief, told Bloomberg in a 2 October interview. "We're managing those vehicles for long term health from a residual value standpoint and not highly discounting them compared to the previous generation."

Ford of Europe was working to fix a problem with its Kuga plug in related to venting heat from the batteries, Jay Ward, another company spokesman, told Bloomberg on Tuesday (13 October). There had been seven vehicle fires in Europe, triggering the recall of 20,500 Kuga models sold there, spotlighting an issue that could take months to resolve, Ward added.

Ward also told Bloomberg Ford was allowing European customers to continue driving their PHEV Kugas but had instructed them not to plug their cars into a charger. The vehicles can operate in conventional hybrid mode without charging. The company extended vehicle warranties and issued EUR500 fuel cards to reimburse customers for a loss in fuel economy, Ward added.

The recall could cause Ford to fall short of European emission regulations limiting carbon-dioxide output from its vehicles, Matthias Schmidt, an automotive analyst and publisher of the European Electric Car Report, wrote in a Tuesday tweet cited by Bloomberg.

"We are committed to meeting our CO2 obligations this year and in future years, as we always have," Ward told Bloomberg.