The Environmental Protection Agency reportedly has certified Ford’s 2005 Escape as the first petrol-electric hybrid SUV for sale in the United States that meets the agency’s stringent new emissions standards.

Reuters said the Escape’s two-wheel drive version gets 36 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway while the four-wheel drive model’s fuel economy is estimated at 33 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway – much higher than most SUVs for the 2004 model year, which averaged 17.9 mpg.

Ford expects to produce 20,000 Escapes annually, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of the 6 million vehicles the company plans to build for the 2005 model year, the report noted.

Reuters noted that environmental groups have criticised Ford for planning to produce so few of the Escapes and said the company’s fleet will still have the worst fuel efficiency of any major US automaker.

EPA said the Escape was given a score of nine in its Green Vehicle Guide, which assigns air pollution scores to vehicles on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the least polluting, the report added.

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