Ford Division announced production plans today for a 2001 Escape XLT Sport - a sportier version of its popular Escape SUV - to be available to customers beginning in the spring.

In addition to the equipment offered on the regular production XLT Escape, the new Sport features an industry first, dual-loading rack system, dubbed the No Boundaries Rack System. In addition, the XLT Sport package will include unique 5-spoke, 16-inch wheels and tires, a standard step bar, privacy glass and floor mats. The XLT Sport is available only with four-wheel drive- and V-6 engine-equipped Escapes.

"The Escape XLT Sport is for the most active Escape customers who appreciate the built-in functionality of Escape, but want the additional innovation provided by the dual-loading No Boundaries Rack System," says Jim O'Connor, president of Ford Division.

The No Boundaries Rack System offers a unique sliding rail from the roof that customers can pull down vertically across the rear of the vehicle and lock into the bumper. This provides customers with two separate loading surfaces - a more traditional one on the roof and an additional one across the rear.

"Whether carrying skis or bikes or both, active Escape XLT Sport customers will make sure those racks are never empty," says O'Connor. "But, if their particular adventure doesn't require that added functionality all the time, the sliding rails can be stored within the conventional roof portion of the rack system."

The 2001 Escape is the newest and smallest member of Ford's comprehensive No Boundaries - Ford Outfitters lineup of SUVs. It joins the best-selling Explorer, Explorer Sport, Explorer Sport Trac, Expedition and Excursion in the most complete SUV lineup in the industry. To date, customers and dealers have placed more than 75,000 orders for the 2001 Ford Escape, which began to appear in dealerships in August. While pricing is not yet available for the XLT Sport, the regular production XLT Escape prices start at $19,735, including destination and delivery charges of $540.

The Ford Escape is built at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant. The XLT Sport will be available in dealerships during the spring of 2001.