As we roared uphill on a twisty, two-lane road outside Los Angeles, Sheri Shapiro interrupted the conversation in Ford Motor's new Escape Hybrid sport utility to point out a series of mountain bikers. The bikers wore blue shirts with individual words printed on the backs, so that driving past them yielded a Burma Shave-style roadside advertisement: "Thanks-for-the-clean-air-Ford-Escape-Hybrid."
"Sorry. I wanted to make sure you noticed," said Shapiro, the Escape Hybrid's marketing manager. "I had to pay for those bikers."
America's first gas-electric hybrid — for which print advertisements are already running elsewhere — has earned a little publicity. The bikers, who were paid to be seen by automotive journalists on the hybrid's first test drive, addressed what may be the chief virtue of the new SUV, which will come out in the late summer: It produces less than 1 pound of smog-forming pollutants for every 15,000 miles you drive it.