The all-new 2020 Ford Escape, at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Ford Motor Co.’s 2020 Escape SUV sits lower — but wider — than its predecessor, has more space — but is lighter — and comes with high-tech gadgetry such as a heads-up display and steering assist to avoid collisions.

The vehicle also, for the first time, will come as a plug-in hybrid that provides an expected 30-mile range before the gas engine kicks in — which can then be used to recharge the battery.

While the new Escape’s engines will be comparable to those in the current model, Ford officials said the new model’s lower weight, coupled with a wider wheel base, will provide for more rapid acceleration, a more exciting driving experience and greater fuel efficiency. The regular hybrid is expected to have a range of about 550 miles.

The Detroit-based automaker hopes that its focus on elegance, performance, efficiency and tech lures more customers from competitors to the Escape, its second-biggest seller in an increasingly crowded small SUV market. When it launched the Escape in the early part of the millennium, Ford had to compete with only six models. Soon, it’ll be about 30.

For Louisville, the Escape plays an important role because the vehicle is made exclusively at the Louisville Assembly Plant, which employs about 4,600, but which is seeing 550 jobs migrate to the Kentucky Truck Plant in response to rising demand for the larger Ford Expedition SUV and its luxury cousin, the Lincoln Navigator. KTP primarily makes the Super Duty, part of the F-Series truck, Ford’s biggest seller by far.

The company will announce first-quarter sales data on Thursday.

Ford officially unveiled the Escape Tuesday, but had given media a preview Thursday at Greenfield Village, an outdoor living history museum that is part of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich.

The all-new 2020 Ford Escape comes with high-tech gadgetry including a heads-up display that provides information about directions and speed. | Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Though Escape is Ford’s second-biggest seller, at 272,000 vehicles sold in 2018, it lags far behind the F-Series, which found 909,000 buyers last year and increasingly is being overtaken by competitors.

As Ford is abandoning virtually all car sales in the U.S., the importance of the small SUV segment is rising. Generally, that should be good news for Ford, because profit margins for SUVs tend to be larger than those for small cars. However, while the small SUV market has about doubled since 2014, reaching nearly 3.4 million last year, Ford’s share has declined and last year was just 8.6 percent.

Graphic by Boris Ladwig

Escape sales had stagnated for four years before falling nearly 12 percent last year. Ford sold 306,000 Escapes in 2014, second only to the Honda CR-V, with 335,000 units. But CR-V sales have risen steadily since then, reaching 379,000 last year, eclipsing Escape sales by more than 100,000 units.

In addition, the Chevrolet Equinox and the Toyota RAV4 have surpassed the Escape. The RAV4 last year was the market leader, with 427,000 units sold, up nearly 60 percent since 2014.

Ford officials said the segment is going to get even more crowded in the coming years, but Christopher Mosco, the Escape’s brand manager, told Insider that Ford expects the updated Escape to attract buyers.

“We expect this to be a strong seller for us,” he said.

The Escape will be built exclusively at the Louisville Assembly Plant, as were some of the models on display in Dearborn on Thursday.

Jim Hughes, chief program engineer for Escape and Kuga, who oversees five assembly plants that produce vehicles for 180 markets, told Insider that the Louisville plant has been preparing for the new Escape since last summer. Ford workers installed some new tooling during planned production shutdowns in July and December.

While production of the current model is ongoing, Hughes said workers at the plant can simply grab the new tools when a new model moves down the assembly line.

“It’s an amazing engineering and manufacturing feat,” he said.