• Ford is using kenaf fibers in the Escape's door panels.
  • The plant is more sustainable than oil-based materials.
  • The plant is one of many "green" materials in the Escape.

Ford is adding a tropical plant to the interior of its upcoming Escape crossover. The automaker recently announced it will use eco-friendly fibers from the tropical kenaf plant in its all-new 2013 Escape, eschewing oil-based materials to save weight, increase fuel economy and boost overall sustainability.

Ford says door panels in the 2013 Escape will feature the plant, which looks like bamboo and is related to cotton and okra. According to the automaker, using kenaf fibers rather than traditional oil-based materials will offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin annually in North America, helping the environment and increasing the automaker's sustainability. Other benefits of using the plant include decreasing door weight by 25 percent, which boosts fuel economy and allows for easier entry and exit.

"Kenaf and the other renewable materials in the Escape have made the vehicle more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient," said Laura Sinclair, materials engineer for the Escape.

According to Ford, kenaf oil is already included in many cosmetics, while kenaf fibers are increasingly used as an alternative to wood in the production of paper. While kenaf features similar properties to wood, the plant is considered far more sustainable due to its abundance and rapid growth, as it can rise to heights of 12 to 14 feet in less than six months. Mainly found in Southeast Asia, kenaf is also cultivated in parts of Africa and the United States.

While Ford's commitment to sustainability is noteworthy, the automaker is quick to point out that kenaf isn't the only Earth-friendly item featured in the 2013 Escape. The automaker says other "green" materials used in the crossover include soy foam in its seats and head restraints, recycled plastic bottles in its carpeting, scrap cotton from the production of denim jeans in its upholstery and climate control gaskets made from recycled tires.

Fully redesigned for 2013, the third-generation Escape made its debut in November at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. The compact crossover is expected to go on sale this spring with entirely new styling and a series of available four-cylinder engines producing between 168 and 237 horsepower. Pricing for the new Escape has not yet been announced, though we don't expect a significant bump over last year's base price of around $22,000 including destination.

What it means to you: By producing great cars with a sustainable flair, Ford is proving that it can compete with the best - and top them.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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