US:Ford to refocus on environment
Ford to refocus on environment
CEO's plan aims for more hybrids
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
In a move that might help him reclaim his environmentalist title and simultaneously put his company back on track, Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford laid out a bold plan Wednesday to reposition Ford as a leader in innovation and cutting-edge energy policies.
The plan includes a push to build more gas-electric hybrids, more vehicles capable of running on ethanol, and an experiment designed to offset the damage greenhouse gases cause.
Environmentalists have attacked Bill Ford in recent years for allegedly breaking these kinds of promises and he was even portrayed as Pinocchio with a long nose in full-page ads in the New York Times last year. "Don't buy his environmental rhetoric. Don't buy his cars," the ads from a California activist group said.
But Ford told hundreds of workers at Ford Motor's Scientific Research Laboratory in Dearborn that his commitment to the sweeping effort announced Wednesday is important to "the future of our company and our country."
He emphasized, "I am personally going to lead this renewed drive."
Ford said the company will increase production of hybrid gasoline-electric engines tenfold by 2010, offering them in as many as 250,000 vehicles. More than half of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup will have hybrid capability.
The automaker also plans to promote flexible fuel technology in 280,000 vehicles next year. That includes four new vehicles capable of running on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol: the F-150, Crown Victoria , Grand Marquis and Town Car.
"It's made here in the U.S.A., which helps us reduce our dependency on foreign oil," Ford said. "So here in America, it will help our farmers, and best of all, it will relieve some of the pressure that our customers are feeling at the gas pump. Ethanol is typically cheaper than regular gasoline, and we're going to do all that we can to support it."
The ethanol-gas mixture E-85 sells for about $2.43 a gallon in Michigan, where there are four ethanol stations, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition says. Regular gasoline, meanwhile, averaged $2.76 Wednesday nationwide, AAA said in its Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
What's more, Ford will experiment with ways to offset the greenhouse gases that are emitted in the production of hybrid vehicles, with projects to counter the damage, such as planting trees. Many scientists say the carbon dioxide emitted during the production and use of vehicles contributes to global warming and change Earth's climate.
Next month, the automaker also will begin marketing its record of innovation in its first corporate ad campaign in three years.
"We're pushing to help solve some of these big issues that are out there," Ford told journalists after his speech. "I think we'd be irresponsible if we didn't respond to that."
Ford's effort comes a year after environmentalist organizations, led by the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network, ran ads that attacked the environmental record of Bill Ford and Ford Motor. The groups alleged Bill Ford broke a pledge he made in 2000 to increase the fuel mileage of Ford's popular lineup of SUVs by 25% by 2005.
Bluewater's Web site discourages consumers from buying a Ford. "The planet can't afford it," the site says. "Bill Ford Jr. has broken his promise to protect the planet. ... Ford's vehicles have become less efficient than any other major automaker."
On Wednesday, though, Norman L. Dean, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Friends of the Earth, which merged with Bluewater last year, credited Ford with taking on these environmental issues.
"One of the things we learned from Katrina is how vulnerable we are to oil supplies, and we need some leadership to reduce our dependence on oil, and we're not seeing that leadership, frankly, from Washington," he said.
Despite that, he noted that Ford has made big environmental promises before "and not been able to keep them."
"I think it's an important announcement and one that we applaud," he said. "But we also are cautiously optimistic in light of broken past promises."
Ford's latest initiative also comes as the automaker tries to get back on track after posting a $907-million loss in its North American operations in the second quarter and with sales up just 0.9% for the year through August, despite a massively popular employee-discount pricing program this summer. Ford's market share for the year through August was 19.1%, down from 19.7% a year ago.
Employees have been working under the threat of layoff as Ford cuts 2,750 jobs by year's end and another restructuring, which could be announced next month. Many seemed cautiously enthusiastic about the announcement, with serious expressions on their faces.
Bill Ford implored them to get onboard with the new initiative.
"I need your help more than ever," he said. "I need you to question. I need you to challenge. ... I need you to declare that innovation is going to be a necessary ingredient in everything we do."
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.....