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Old 01-09-2003, 09:07   #1 (permalink)
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Anti-SUV drive puts automakers on alert

Latest salvo: TV ads that link vehicles to support of terrorism
1-9-03
By Jeff Plungis, Ed Garsten and Mark Truby / The Detroit News
Jean-Marc Bouju / Associated Press

DETROIT -- Beyond the glittering array of new sport utility vehicles and SUV-inspired "crossover" vehicles on the floor of Cobo Center this week, there is a movement brewing against SUVs and the people who own them.

The crowd decrying the gas-guzzling ways of America's vehicle of choice has expanded beyond traditional environmental groups and liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill. A longtime Detroit journalist, national church groups, Hollywood power brokers and a radical group called the Earth Liberation Front have climbed on board.

The industry has taken note and is watching, even as it tries to meet burgeoning consumer demand for sport utes. More than 3 million SUVs were sold in 2002, up from 1.1 million in 1992. While some executives dismiss the most extreme actions as irrelevant, they are watching carefully for any signs consumer sentiment is shifting away from a crucial market segment that generates huge profits.

"We are very concerned about it," said Jo Cooper, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group that represents major automakers.

The growing anti-SUV movement comes even as companies such as GM and Toyota announce plans to roll out SUV models powered by more fuel efficient gasoline-electric hybrid powertrains.

In the latest volley, conservative commentator Arianna Huffington launched the "Detroit Project" Wednesday. The ad campaign equates SUV ownership with supporting terrorism.

A child's voice narrates a 30-second spot that will begin airing Sunday. "This is George," the voice says. "This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the countries where the executives bought the oil that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV."

The spot closes with a black screen with the question, "What is your SUV doing to our national security?"

Some stations, including WDIV-Channel 4 in Detroit, rejected the ads this week.

The new ads are the latest in a series of recent efforts questioning the SUV's impact on the environment:

Journalist Keith Bradshear, who covered the auto industry in Detroit for the New York Times until last year, delivered a book-length manifesto of environmental and social ills exacerbated by the SUV with "High and Mighty: The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way," published in September.

In November, the leaders of five religious denominations launched an ad campaign asking "What Would Jesus Drive?" and traveled to Detroit to convince Big Three executives they had a moral obligation to offer more fuel-efficient vehicles to protect God's earth.

The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for setting fire to a Ford, Lincoln Mercury dealership near Erie, Pa. last weekend because it sold SUVs.

More than 30 SUVs have been vandalized in the Richmond, Va., area during the past few months, many with an acid-like chemical.

A Boston group, EarthonEmpty.com, is aiming to "ticket" 100,000 SUVs in May 2003 in conjunction with national Bike Week. The group has created a bright-orange mock traffic ticket that reads, in part, "We made this ticket because we live in the city, and so do you, and there's something really wrong about the way the SUV is changing our streets and the air we breathe. This is not a militarized zone!"

Efforts may backfire

Some auto executives said the anti-SUV efforts might backfire, especially if they demonize average Americans who buy the vehicles.

"Let's face it. America loves SUVs," said Ford President Nick Scheele. "They are some of the best-selling vehicles in the world. And people do love the SUVs they drive."

Still, Ford plans to begin selling a 40 mile-per-gallon gas-electric version of its Ford Escape SUV later this year.

"One of the reason we are bringing out a hybrid Escape is because we do recognize there is a segment of the population that wants an SUV and all that it can offer, but also wants to be sensitive to the environmental concerns that many people have," Scheele said.

GM this week announced plans to offer a broader array of hybrid gas-electric vehicles across much of its car and truck lineup. But the company is not retreating from its successful stable of large SUVs.

"We exist to serve the consumer," said Byron McCormick, GM's executive director of global fuel cell activities. "We don't exist if the consumer isn't excited about what we bring (to the market.) People are being perfectly rational to buy big vehicles. Fuel is very inexpensive. They want unfettered mobility."

Brazen action

The New Year's Day fire at the Pennsylvania new car dealership is possibly the most brazen action taken by an anti-SUV contingent. It took on the overtones of violent anti-abortion groups.

Since the fire, dealership owner Bob Ferrando said he has been deluged with calls and e-mails of support.

"One fellow from Mississippi called us and said he would drive all the way up here to buy an SUV from us," Ferrando said.

In defending the act on its Web site, earthliberationfront.com, the group said, "There is a direct relationship between our irresponsible over-consumption and lust for luxury products, and the poverty and destruction of other people and the natural world."

Charles Griffith of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor said the ads and the acts of vandalism underscore that a growing group of people are now aware of the fuel economy issue and its link to foreign oil.

"We're not condoning any of it," Griffith said. "But it indicates a larger segment of the population feels frustrated by the political system and corporate America's lack of willingness to face the issue."

Lana Pollack of the Michigan Environmental Council said attempts to lay blame on current and prospective SUV drivers could backfire. So the MEC and the Sierra Club are vying for the ears and sensitivities of future motorists -- kids.

When the North American International Auto Show opens to the public Saturday, youngsters will be invited to engage in a scavenger hunt for environmentally-friendly vehicles on the show floor.

"Kids have a big interest in the environment and doing things right," Pollack said.

"We're working to try to create demand for hybrids and show that demand is not just among environmentalists," said Daniel Becker, director of global warming and energy programs at the Sierra Club.

Becker said GM's plan to make hybrid vehicles more widely available across its product line was "like Nixon going to China."

Reluctant support

It's a plan that Robert Lutz, GM's vice chairman for product development, embraced only reluctantly. Lutz said the company made the move because it couldn't bow to public pressure any longer, despite the uncertain market for such vehicles.

"You just can't fly in the face of public opinion, especially not when you're General Motors, because rightly or wrongly, we have the reputation of opposing things," Lutz said. "I think it would be self-defeating to constantly say to ourselves, 'It's not gonna work, it's not gonna work.' "

But GM's move also can be construed as a gauntlet toss to the anti-SUV crowd, challenging environmentalist to buy the vehicles if GM builds them.

"At the same time 'cry for action' is reaching a shrill level, you're seeing the industry response to pressure that has been building for years," said John DeCicco, senior fellow with Environmental Defense, a moderate, New York-based environmental lobby group.

While automaker's are developing and building more fuel-efficient, car-based SUVs, the bottom line on fuel consumption is likely to change very little, DeCicco said.

"The momentum in the market," he said, "is still going in the wrong direction."

The Detroit Project ad campaign shows George filling up his SUV, as a child narrates the script.


WHAT THE ADS SAY

"George/Parody"

(A young girl's voice is speaking.)

"This is George. This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. This is the oil company executive that sold the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the countries where the executive bought the oil, that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV."

(Word on screen)

OIL MONEY SUPPORTS SOME TERRIBLE THINGS.

WHAT KIND OF MILAGE DOES YOUR SUV GET?

www.thedetroitproject.com Paid for by The Detroit Project


"Talking Head/Parody"

(The ads show a series of "talking heads," much like the anti-drug ads connecting drug use to support of terrorists.)

"I helped hijack an airplane. I helped blow up a nightclub. So what if it gets 11 miles to the gallon. I gave money to a terrorist training camp in a foreign country. It makes me feel safe. I helped our enemies develop weapons of mass destruction. What if I need to go off-road? Everyone has one. I helped teach kids around the world to hate America. I like to sit up high. I sent our soldiers off to war. Everyone has one. My life, my SUV. I don't even know how many miles it gets to the gallon."

(Words on screen)

WHAT IS YOUR SUV DOING TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY?

DETROIT, AMERICA NEEDS HYBRID CARS NOW.

Paid for by The Detroit Project

(Photo)Conservative syndicated commentator Arianna Huffington founded the television ad campaign, which some stations have rejected.
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Old 01-09-2003, 09:09   #2 (permalink)
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SUV sales in the US......
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Old 01-09-2003, 10:18   #3 (permalink)
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Anti-SUV efforts spark an anti-anti groundswell

World Auto View
By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News
The anti-SUV movement

A new TV ad equates owning a sport utility vehicle with supporting terrorism. Should those who drive SUVs feel guilty about the fuel consumption?

DETROIT--The people cheering an alleged backlash against sport-utility vehicles -- and the torching of an SUV last week in Pennsylvania -- probably never wagered on my buddy Steve Simon.

If there's a leader-by-example of an incipient anti-anti-SUV backlash, he is it.

A partner in a small business on Cape Cod, Simon is the archetypal American individualist who enjoys the fruits of his labor and isn't cowed by activists suggesting he's immoral and wasteful just because he puts his wife behind the wheel of a Ford Expedition.

So when news of the Earth Liberation Front's attack on Bob Ferrando Ford Lincoln Mercury in Erie, Pa., showed up on Simon's e-mail list, he decided to fight back. He picked up the phone, called his Ford dealer and began to place an order for a Ford Excursion.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," he says. "I'm livid. I use more gas, which means I pay more taxes. It's the fairest thing in the world: You use it, you pay more. You don't use it, you don't pay."

But aren't you being wasteful and selfish for driving a big Detroit SUV? And what about the new campaign from the so-called Detroit Project, which suggests SUV drivers support terrorism because they perpetuate American dependence on Middle East oil?

"I suppose if I eat figs and dates I'm supporting terrorism, too," Simon says. "You know, I don't need a house with central air conditioning and heat. We could all live in log cabins and grow our own food. We don't need the Internet, either. I'm also the guy in my town who's trying to put up a windmill to generate electricity. Don't tell me I'm wasteful."

The folks who hate SUVs and condemn those who drive them will, of course, call him a lot of names. They'll cite isolated incidents -- the sport-ute burning, the Detroit Project and the "What would Jesus drive" campaign -- as evidence of a growing tide against SUVs. Effective PR and gullible media organizations willing to spread the word isn't evidence, however.

Sales figures are. The truth is that sales of sport-utes in the United States rose 6.3 percent last year, according to Autodata Inc. Pickup trucks were off 5.7 percent and minivan sales slipped 4.3 percent for the year.

"Where is this SUV backlash?" asks Chris Theodore, Ford Motor Co.'s head of North American engineering. "We don't see it" in the numbers.

What's obvious is this:

First, a coalition of activist groups -- all of them purportedly environmental and certainly leftist -- are aiming their ire at an icon of modern American life that undeniably consumes more fuel than, say, a Toyota Prius.

Second, burning four SUVs on a dealer's lot probably generated more air pollution than an Expedition does in a month.

Third, the proliferation of SUVs and crossover utility vehicles, as evidenced by the wares shown at this week's North American International Auto Show, suggests that these vehicles will account for a growing chunk of the vehicles in American driveways.

Fourth, the fact that Toyota Motor Corp. showcased a Lexus RX330 with a gasoline-electric hybrid engine, and that Ford later this year will offer a hybrid Escape SUV and that General Motors Corp. is tooling up to offer hybrid engines in 12 models signal that the industry is taking fuel economy and environmental concerns seriously.

The proof will be whether anyone buys them.
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Old 01-09-2003, 11:31   #4 (permalink)
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TV spots heating up SUV fight

Local stations decline to run contentious ads
January 9, 2003

BY JULIE HINDS
DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

A group called the Detroit Project announced plans Wednesday to air two edgy anti-SUV television commercials in select cities, including Detroit. The Los Angeles-based coalition, headed by syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, is out to convince the public that gas guzzling poses a threat to national security.

The ads are supposed to debut Sunday morning, during the political talk shows. They've already aired on newscasts on NBC's network news Tuesday and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) local news Wednesday night.

But the likelihood of the commercials reaching the Motor City's airwaves as ads seems iffy.

One TV station, WDIV-TV (Channel 4), has turned them down. Another station, WWJ-TV (Channel 62), says the ads aren't running, despite the Detroit Project's claim that Channel 62 would run them.

The message of the commercials is bare-knuckle brutal and, according to critics, downright ludicrous.

The commercials link SUVs to terrorism, mimicking the government-sponsored antidrug ads that debuted during the 2002 Super Bowl.

In one ad, a stream of people have this to say about driving SUVs: "I helped hijack an airplane . . . I helped blow up a nightclub . . . So what if it gets 11 miles to the gallon . . . I gave money to a terrorist training camp in a foreign country."

And so on, for 30 seconds. The concluding line? "What is your SUV doing to national security? Detroit, America needs hybrid cars now."

The second spot is a play on a children's rhyme:

"This is George. This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. This is the oil company executive that sold the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the countries where the executive bought the oil, that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV."

The Detroit Project held a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday to trumpet the fact that the ads would play in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Huffington's spokespeople said the ads would air locally on WWJ-TV (Channel 62) and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and on Comcast cable systems in Ann Arbor and Dearborn Heights.

They also said WDIV-TV (Channel 4) had refused to show the ads.

But according to Channel 62, the ads are not going to appear on its airwaves.

Channel 7 couldn't find any such ads on its schedule. By the end of the day, Huffington's people were saying that Channel 7 had declined to air the ads.

Comcast officials couldn't confirm or deny the report, since the company's policy is not to discuss the schedules of its advertising clients.

It's hard to imagine any Detroit station would be eager to run such ads during auto show week, a time when many top local advertisers are showing off the region's defining product.

But Ted Pearse, Channel 4's general sales manager, said the decision to turn the ads down wasn't affected by the event.

"I think the copy in the ads is totally inappropriate and that has nothing to do with the fact the auto show is in town," said Pearse. "If it was eight weeks from now, I don't feel the script presented to us was germane in any shape, way or form."

Huffington insists the campaign "is not designed to demonize SUV owners."

But plenty of Detroiters beg to disagree and accuse her of playing on the public's emotions during a tense time of potential war.

"I don't think people will pay attention to them," said Bryan Feltner, sales manager of the Detroit Hummer dealership in Southfield. "To take that approach, to even suggest there's a link to terrorism is so out there, it doesn't even make sense to me."

For months, the SUV backlash has been building up steam, from books bashing the vehicles and the "What Would Jesus Drive" campaign. It's a trend that's angered many SUV fans, who are quick to point out the auto industry's role in reviving the economy after Sept. 11.

In other cities, several TV stations also have refused to air the ads, including WABC and WCBS in New York, and KABC in Los Angeles, according to Huffington's staff.

Michael Bernacchi, marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, said the ads are calculated to stir up trouble.

"There is so much clutter in today's marketplace, it's almost impossible to get a payoff without controversy before and after your ad," said Bernacchi. "No matter how ridiculous, absurd or inappropriate your message is, that's the game now in advertising."

Huffington formed the Detroit Project this fall with Hollywood friends like Laurie David, an environmental activist and wife of comedian Larry David, and Lawrence Bender, the producer of the movie "Pulp Fiction." The ads were directed by Scott Burns, the man behind the "Got Milk" campaign.

Huffington estimates her group has spent about $200,000 for the initial media buy. She says she wants to reach and educate a three-pronged target audience: consumers, automakers and government officials.

Some critics say Huffington's campaign sounds more like an attempt to interfere with people's right to choose their own transportation.

"She's treating SUVS as scapegoat utility vehicles," says Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. "What it comes down to is elitist nonsense."
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