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Originally published Friday, November 30, 2012 at 10:00 PM

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Ford pushes to go toe-to-toe with Toyota in hybrid market

Ford said Friday that November will be its best hybrid sales month ever, with more than 6,000 sold, easily surpassing the previous record of 5,353 sold in July 2009. It now wants to go after hybrid leader Toyota.

Detroit Free Press

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Ford’s targeted efforts to challenge Toyota in the hybrid market are gaining momentum. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker said Friday it expects to hit a record 11 percent share of the electrified-vehicle market when November sales are released Monday.

Toyota is the undisputed king of hybrid sales — the Prius alone accounts for more than half the market.

But Ford has been steadfastly increasing the number of vehicles with hybrid and plug-in alternatives, including the new Fusion. And Ford recently introduced its first dedicated hybrid nameplate: the C-Max, available only as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid.

Ford also has unabashedly targeted comparisons with Toyota products in its advertising in a deliberate effort to have its products associated with the big dog in the fuel-efficiency fight.

Ford said Friday that November will be its best hybrid sales month ever, with more than 6,000 sold, easily surpassing the previous record of 5,353 sold in July 2009.

The 11 percent share of the electrified market is a fivefold increase this year — largely on the roughly 4,400 C-Max and C-Max Energi hybrids sold in November.

November is the first full month of sales for the two versions of the C-Max and Fusion hybrid.

The new Fusion hybrid is staying on lots less than a week before being sold, and hybrids are accounting for 27 percent of Fusion sales to retail customers, Ford reports.

This week, the Fusion hybrid was named Green Car of the Year at the LA Auto Show.

The increasing lineup of Ford vehicles with electric propulsion is prompting more consumers to cross shop against Toyota and other brands, said C.J. O’Donnell, marketing manager for Ford Electrified Vehicles.

“We’re providing our customers the power to choose from a suite of electric vehicles,” he said.

“Nearly all customers are prioritizing fuel economy, and more than 60 percent are considering hybrids.”

Overheating problem spurs Escape, Fusion recall

DETROIT — Ford said Friday that it is recalling more than 89,000 new Escape SUVs and Fusion sedans because the engines can overheat and cause fires.

The recall affects vehicles from the 2013 model year with 1.6-liter engines that were sold in the U.S. and Canada, the company said in a statement.

Ford says it’s working on a fix and is asking owners to contact dealers, who will arrange for loaner cars at no charge until the repairs are made. The company says the engines can catch fire when they overheat and fluids leak onto hot parts. It was unclear exactly what caused the engines to overheat.

It’s the fourth recall in four months for the all-new Escape, a top seller for Ford in the important compact SUV segment of the market. The new 2013 version went on sale in the spring.

Safety advocates say that more than three recalls in a car’s first year are a sign of quality problems, although Ford has said previously that the recalls show it’s moving quickly to address safety problems.

Ford spokesman Said Deep said the recall comes after the company received reports of 12 fires in Escapes and one in a Fusion.

No injuries have been reported.

The recall affects Fusions and Escapes with “SE” and “SEL” packages. Models with different engines don’t have the problem and are not involved in the recall. About 73,000 Escapes and 16,000 Fusions are affected.

The cars can still be driven, but owners whose dashboard warning lights illuminate should pull off the road, turn off the engine and leave the vehicle, the company said.

“It is important that affected customers not ignore this recall and contact their dealer as soon as possible,” Steve Kenner, director of Ford’s Automotive Safety Office, said in the statement.

Escape and Fusion owners can find out more about the recall by going to Ford’s website, www.ford.com, and clicking “View Notices and Recalls” in the “Support” tab. Owners can type in the 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if their vehicles are included. They can also call Ford at 866- 436-7332.

— The Associated Press

Ex-engineer, spouse guilty of stealing hybrid secrets

DETROIT — An ex-General Motors engineer and her husband were found guilty of stealing trade secrets on hybrid-car technology from the automaker to help develop such vehicles in China.

A federal court jury in Detroit reached the verdicts Friday after a trial that started Nov. 5. Jurors began deliberating Thursday.

The U.S. claimed Shanshan Du, the ex-GM employee, copied the Detroit-based company’s private information on the motor control of hybrids and provided documents to her husband, Yu Qin.

Prosecutors accused Qin of using the data to seek business ventures or employment with GM’s competitors, including the Chinese automaker Chery Automobile.

Qin was convicted of all seven counts. Du was convicted on three trade-secret counts, including conspiracy to possess trade secrets without authorization. She was acquitted on wire-fraud charges.

General Motors contended that the secrets are worth more than $40 million, prosecutors said.

Lawyers for both defendants, who pleaded not guilty, argued that the information didn’t consist of trade secrets, wasn’t stolen and was useless for other companies.

Robert Morgan, Du’s attorney, declined to comment after the verdict. Frank Eaman, Qin’s lawyer, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

Sentencing will be in February, U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani said after the verdict was read.

— Bloomberg News

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