Japanese cars may get all the good lanes

  A proposed new law would give some hybrid-vehicle owners access to California’s coveted commuter lanes — and the CEO of Ford Motor Co. is feeling left out.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would issue 75,000 permits to the owners of hybrid vehicles which meet specific state and federal emission standards and get 45 miles per gallon; currently, that’s only the Toyota Prius, and the Honda Insight and hybrid Civic. The three-year permits would allow lone drivers to use carpool lanes and cross certain bridges toll-free or with reduced rates.

Later this summer, Ford plans to begin selling the 2005 Escape Hybrid, its first hybrid vehicle. But there won’t be any room for Escape drivers in carpool lanes: "Earth’s First and Only Full Hybrid SUV" gets between 29 and 36 miles per gallon.

So in an Aug. 16 letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R, Bill Ford urged the governor to veto the bill if it passes the Legislature. He wrote: "AB 2628 puts our workers and shareholders at a competitive disadvantage precisely when Ford is entering the hybrid market with a family-oriented, no compromise SUV. Ford would not consider asking the California Legislature to support a ‘Buy American law.’ We are chagrined to see that AB 2628 amounts to a ‘Buy Japanese’ bill."