A funny thing is happening in Dearborn, Mich. Ford Motor (NYSE:F), erstwhile maker of steel barns-on-wheels such as the Lincoln Navigator and the Expedition, is turning green.

Last week, Ford CEO and namesake Bill Ford Jr. spoke out in favor of hiking federal gas taxes by $0.50. Mr. Ford argued that the nation needs to begin switching over to more fuel-efficient vehicles, and that the best ways to convince car buyers do this would be to raise gas taxes and/or create incentives for consumers to buy hybrid gas-electric vehicles (for example, the $3,000 tax deduction for hybrid-buyers, which Congress is now considering extending).

I do not know whether Mr. Ford should be applauded for his courage in taking this stand or committed to state psychiatric care for favoring increased taxes on the stuff that his company's biggest money makers -- large pickups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) -- slurp down by the barrel.

Fortunately, there is a third choice. We can commend Mr. Ford for his shrewd, if not particularly subtle, marketing strategy. Because lo and behold, at the same time Mr. Ford is renewing his calls for gas tax increases and tax breaks for hybrid-buyers... Ford is rolling out a hybrid version of its Escape SUV. And either of Mr. Ford's proposals would help to push consumers toward car showrooms featuring the hybrid Escape.

While hybrid buyers heretofore have been limited to buying Japanese econoboxes such as Honda's (NYSE:HMC) Insight or Civic or Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Prius (currently the hottest-selling car in the U.S.), Ford will be the first company to market a "green" SUV. Toyota will be following suit later this year, with its hybrid Lexus RX330 luxury SUV, and General Motors (NYSE:GM) has reportedly begun selling a few hybrid pickups to its corporate customers.

True, the field will get more crowded come 2007, by which time Ford expects to have two more hybrid vehicle variants for sale (another SUV and a midsize sedan). GM is also promising to begin offering a few hybrid SUVs and a midsize sedan by that year, and I suspect that other carmakers will follow suit.

But for the time being, Ford seems to be the only major car manufacturer offering a non-luxury, non-compact hybrid passenger vehicle to the American big-car-loving public.

What's your opinion of Ford's move to get in on the move toward hybrid vehicles with its Escape SUV? Talk it over with Fools on the Ford Motor discussion board.

Fool contributor Rich Smith is not a certified "car guy," nor does he own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.