All photos courtesy Ford Motor Company, click for slideshow.
Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11)- Louisville's auto future has been unveiled in Los Angeles.
The 2013 Ford Escape replaces the truck-like look of the current model with a sports wagon design.
Ford hopes to compete for consumers who now drive the Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4.
Ford calls it the "next generation" Escape. For Steve Milam, a Ford worker who has worked an entire generation -- 24 years -- at Louisville Assembly Plant, it is a Great Escape.
"A couple of years ago, I was wondering if I was going to get a chance to finish my career here at this assembly plant," Milam said, "and now not only will I get a chance to finish it, I get a chance to go out with a bang."
Milam has built Fords from the LTD and Bronco to the Mountaineer and Explorer. He's a part of the launch team that traveled to a pilot plant in Michigan to build the first new Escape, and is one of the few people who has already driven the new Escape.
"Your first impression may lead you to believe that it's a little bit smaller," Milam said, "but it's just been reconfigured. It's just a little sleeker, all the curvy lines. Once you open the doors you see just how large both the driver and the passenger area is, the second row seats and particularly when you fold the back seats down you see all that room in the cargo area, the engineers have done a great job."
"As you can tell, I'm a pretty sizable kind of guy and it's very comfortable for a guy like me," Milam added.
The Escape's transformation mirrors the transformation of the Louisville Assembly Plant, which was on the chopping block just a few years ago.
Conversely, by the end of next year, Ford expects the demand for the new Escape to require more than 4,000 workers on three full shifts on Fern Valley Road.
"We will make Ford and our community and the whole world proud that Ford decided to make this investment of bringing this product to Louisville," Milam said.
While Ford is touting the fuel economy of the 2013 Escape, it is not specifying mileage data. The automaker says the new model improves mileage by as much as 5 miles per gallon.
Ford has invested more than $600 million to gut and rebuild the Louisville Assembly Plant into its most flexible manufacturing plant in North Amercia. Spec models of the Escape are already rolling off the line and the manufacture of "sellable" Escapes is expected to begin in December.
Ford is in the process of hiring 1800 new workers to join the 1100 workers who returned to the plant after a layoff.
The automaker expects sales of the Escape to require the hiring of yet another 1300 workers to staff a third shift at the historic Fern Valley Road plant.
Mark Fields, Ford President of the Americas, says he expects all three shifts to be on the payroll by the end of next year, approximately 4200 workers.
Ford says the 2013 Escape "delivers the versatility drivers crave, the technologies they desire and the highway fuel economy that, until now, they've only dreamed of - all wrapped in a modern design."
The Escape is Ford's top selling small SUV. Sales of the current model are up 60 percent compared with last year at Byerly Ford in Louisville.
"It's a great vehicle currently," said Greg Danhauer,
Byerly Ford owner, "With the new design, the new engine choices, the better fuel economy, the fact that it's built here, it's just exciting news not only for me as a retailer but for the community as well because I know they are going to sell. We'll sell everyone of them we can get."
Danhauer said the new design is "more aerodynamic" and resembles the Ford Kuga, a European model Danhauer has admired in past years. In fact, the 2013 Escape is the same vehicle as the Ford Kuga in Europe and China.
Ford's new "One Ford" strategy is to improve overall quality by sharing the same designs and components across the world.
The new Escape uses the popular ecoboost technology Ford has been using in trucks - to allow a 4 cylinder engine to have the power of a V6.
"So you get the power that you need and that people want to get on the highway and do everything they want to do but you get the fuel economy as well," Danhauer said, "so it's kind of a win win situation."
The technology in the new Escape is also a major selling point with more user friendly displays, larger icons and an updated MyFord Touch system to control telephone, climate, navigation and entertainment.
"It's almost like a cockpit area," Milam said, "Everything is not so close, but it's close enough that it's easy access. And I'll be honest with you that is the thing that has impressed me the most about the new product is all the new technologies, all the new bells and whistles