Ford Motor Co. is considering a major hybrid initiative -- a plug-in car -- that could make the struggling automaker the leading U.S. producer of hybrid cars.

Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford told shareholders at the automaker's annual meeting that the automotive market is shifting rapidly because of higher oil prices and the company is trying to respond.

"Our fleet is getting smaller and we are working hard on ethanol, biofuels and hybrids," Bill Ford told shareholders.

Plug-in hybrids can be charged from an outlet and have greater range in all-electric mode. A small gasoline engine provides power for the vehicle over longer distances, much like the Toyota Prius.

Environmentalists argue that plug-in hybrid technology is the most immediate option to improve fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, others point out that a plug-in hybrid uses electricity that is generated through coal, nuclear or other means and is not truly emission-free.

High gasoline prices continue to cut deeply into demand for profitable Ford SUVs and F-series pickup trucks.

"We are working very hard on this," Ford said. "We agree gas prices are high and oil is not going to be any more plentiful or easier to find in the future."