United States:Ford's goal to boost SUV mpg backfires
By David Kiley, USA TODAY
DETROIT Ford Motor formally admitted Friday that it won't meet its goal of raising fuel economy of its sport-utility vehicles 25% by 2005, a target it set in 2000. The admission had been expected, but Ford surprisingly also said its SUV economy had worsened since last year.
CEO Bill Ford said big SUVs, which use more fuel, grew in popularity last year, while sales of small ones that use less fuel slipped. Too, technology that Ford thought would improve fuel economy either under-delivered or was too expensive for the financially ailing automaker to put in its vehicles.
Ford's annual Corporate Citizenship report said the automaker's SUV fuel economy in 2002 improved by 5.2% to just above 21 miles per gallon since 2000, when the combined fuel economy of its SUV fleet was about 20 mpg. But that was worse than in '01, when Ford Motor's array of SUVs had been 8.4% more fuel efficient than they were in 2000 at 21.7 mpg.
SUVs are a target for environmental advocacy groups because they burn more gas than minivans or station wagons that haul as many people.
Ford tried in 2000 to pre-empt environmental attacks by pledging to cut SUV fuel consumption 25% by 2005. What looked then like bold leadership has begun to seem like an embarrassing failure.
"Ford deserves some credit for being upfront about their failure, but they are stepping back from their leadership position by not setting a new goal," said David Friedman, senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In addition to the growing popularity of larger, less fuel-efficient SUVs, Bill Ford cited other barriers to better SUV fuel economy, mainly tied to Ford's financial miseries:
Introduction of a gas-electric hybrid Escape small SUV that gets 40 miles per gallon is delayed until 2004. A hybrid midsize Explorer SUV was scuttled because fuel economy gains were too small to justify the cost.
Car-based SUVs, such as the Ford Freestyle due next year, have taken longer to bring to market than the company thought. Car-based SUVs tend to use less fuel because they are lighter than conventional truck-based SUVs and don't need big engines.
Spending has slowed on technology that would cut fuel use.
For instance, an integrated starter-generator planned for the '03 Explorer is delayed. The device shuts off the engine at stoplights and restarts it when the driver pushes on the gas. Such devices are used in hybrid vehicles.
An electronic throttle control planned for Explorer has been delayed until the '04 model. The system controls the throttle more precisely to avoid wasting fuel.
"We were not able to make the investments in the products and technologies needed to meet the goal, nor were some of the technologies as mature as we thought," Bill Ford said.
Ford lost $6.4 billion the last two years. It expects its core auto business to barely break even this year.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....