Rainforest Action Network
Demonstrators target the Broadway Ford dealership in Oakland, Calif., during last month's International Day of Intervention, organized by environmental groups against Ford.
Ford can't escape the crosshairs of green groups
For environmental activists, automaker is No. 1 target for its low fuel economy.
By Ann Job / Special to The Detroit News
Bill Ford Jr. shows off the Ford Escape Hybrid at the New York auto show in April. It's the first gas-electric SUV.
SAN FRANCISCO -- General Motors Corp. sells as many big, heavy Hummers as it can, and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is adding gas-hungry Hemi V-8 engines to an ever-increasing number of vehicles. Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co.p. are adding bigger SUVs and pickup trucks with thirsty engines to their U.S. lineups.
But it's Ford Motor Co., especially chief executive officer Bill Ford Jr., which remains singularly in the crosshairs of some environmental groups because of its lagging fuel economy.
Even today, three months after Ford became the first automaker in the world to offer consumers a fuel-thrifty, gasoline-electric hybrid sport utility vehicle -- the Escape Hybrid -- the Sierra Club, Bluewater Network and Rainforest Action Network make no apologies for continuing to target the carmaker. And although there are no specific plans in place yet, they expect to continue their grassroots assault in 2005 by staging more "Days of Intervention" against the automaker.
All three groups worked with other environmental organizations on an "International Day of Intervention against Ford" last month.
Organizers estimated that hundreds of grassroots supporters in more than 40 cities in the United States and Canada went to Ford dealerships to protest or meet with dealer personnel and talk about Ford's poor ranking in average fleet fuel economy, which has been the lowest among major automakers in each of the last five years.
Boston; New Orleans; Boulder, Colo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Oakland and San Rafael, Calif.; Des Moines and Wichita, Kan., as well as Vancouver and Edmonton in Canada, were among the cities that had protesters.
Organizers said they planned future days of intervention against Ford that might include the Wolverine state.
"Our sole focus is Ford," said Russell Long, who founded the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network eight years ago. "The No. 1 reason (is) Mr. Ford made all those pledges" to improve fuel economy, then the company retreated from its publicized goal of improving its SUV fuel economy by 25 percent over five years, Long said.
Bluewater is the 20,000-member organization that petitioned the California legislation to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. Automakers are fighting the law because they say it forces improvements in fuel economy, a policy area that is regulated by federal, rather than state, authorities. The group depicted Bill Ford as a fibbing Pinocchio in newspaper ads early this year and is among the parties that want Ford's fleet fuel economy to reach 50 miles per gallon by 2010.
Brendan Bell of the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C.-based global warming program, also cited Bill Ford's interest in the environment as the reason Ford Motor is being spotlighted over other automakers.
"Bill Ford's name goes on every car they sell," Bell said. "Americans understand it's his company, and Bill Ford has said we need to address (environmental issues)."
Jennifer Krill, zero emissions campaign director for the 20,000-member Rainforest Action Network, said, "People expect more from Ford (Motor) because of the company's history of innovation."
Based in San Francisco, Rainforest focuses on the loss and degradation of the Earth's forests and was behind a high-profile, successful effort to end the Home Depot's sales of wood that comes from endangered forests. But like many environmental groups today, Rainforest considers global warming one of the environmental issues it must address.
Chrysler isn't targeted the way Ford is, Bell said, because the company's merger with Germany's Daimler-Benz means decisions aren't necessarily made by Americans. He implied that a campaign against Chrysler would be more complicated than one directed at Ford.
And making an impact on GM is difficult because the company has so many brands.
"If you ask a consumer who runs General Motors, they can't tell you," Bell said.
"Chrysler and GM are certainly issues, but -- we have to start somewhere," said Rainforest spokesman Paul West.
Ford spokeswoman Carolyn Brown acknowledged that Bill Ford "has been very outspoken about his concern for the environment." She said the company has "what we consider a constructive dialogue" with many environmental groups, and that Ford is being targeted by green supporters because of the company's history of supporting environmentally friendly policies.
"We are committed to improving fuel economy," Brown said. "But we are not in agreement (with them) on the timing."
When Ford backed off its pledge to boost SUV fuel economy by 25 percent by 2005, the automaker cited technology delays and financial issues as among the reasons for the change.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said some environmental groups have unrealistic expectations.
"Ford as a company is under tremendous stress right now," he said. "And Bill Ford has an obligation to the employees, the shareholders and dealers. You have to do what it takes to make the company profitable and that allows you to develop the profits and revenue to work on new products and new technology (including environmental advancements)."
A Harvard University alumnus who holds a master's degree in business from New York's Columbia University, Bluewater's Long said he understands business pressures.
"But at the same time, (Bill Ford) should have come clean with the environmental community that he was not going to be able to meet those pledges," Long said.
"He (backed off) in 2003. That's when he publicly reneged. But what should have happened is as soon as they decided to push the sales of the light-duty segment in the hopes of turning around the company, somebody should have picked up the phone and called one of us in the environmental community and said, 'Look, we have to meet. We're simply not going to do it but we would like to sit down to try to figure out if and when we can do something towards meeting some type of environmental goal,' because that has been a stated, very public commitment by the company."
Long, who was an amateur race car driver when he was in his 20s and drove Fords on the track, now drives a Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrid car. He said environmentalists are angered that Ford continues to portray itself as a "green" company.
"Ford's marketing talks about the greening of the Blue Oval," he said. "It's highly disingenuous if not outright false. Ford's advertising is outrageously misleading because it paints the company as an environmental leader when, in fact, it's exactly the opposite."
Ford's Brown touted the automaker's fuel cell research, its debut this fall of a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine and its plans to add hybrid versions of its Mercury Mariner SUV in 2006 and its midsize Fusion car after that.
"We're very actively looking at new technology," she said.
But Ford had best not expect any letup from the environmentalists.
A provocative ad from Rainforest in October's Mother Jones magazine showed coffins draped by American flags with a headline reading "The Ultimate Price of Oil Addiction."
The message of the ad, which mentions only Ford: America can't afford Ford's addiction to oil.
"We're reaching the age," Rainforest's Krill said, "where Americans are realizing the true cost of our oil."