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Old 05-13-2004, 12:25   #1 (permalink)
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USA:Ford CEO sees upside to higher U.S. gasoline prices

Ford CEO sees upside to higher U.S. gasoline prices

Reuters / May 13, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Higher U.S. gasoline prices could hurt sales of some of the big SUVs and full-sized pickups that generate much of Ford Motor Co.'s automotive profits.

But Ford CEO Bill Ford told the company's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday that surging prices could help drive Ford and other automakers toward a more fuel-efficient future.

Ford, who has been criticized for failing to make good on his professed commitment to environmental issues in the past, spoke when asked what he was doing to improve the poor average fuel economy of its U.S. vehicle fleet.

Ford said the No. 2 U.S. automaker was "pouring enormous resources" into the development of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, and alternate fuel vehicles as well. But until recently, in the face of surging gasoline price increases, he said more fuel-efficient cars and trucks were of little interest to the average U.S. car buyer.

The company was "caught in the uncomfortable position of trying to move our vehicles to a more fuel-efficient future and yet having the demand pulled the other way," Ford said, explaining that U.S. customers seemed to want only "bigger engines and bigger vehicles."

Now, however, Ford told an environmental activist who questioned him at the meeting, gasoline prices could "help drive customer behavior the way you'd like to see it."

"In the rest of the world you don't have this disconnect as much," said Ford, speaking of the clash between consumer preferences and a society's overall environmental goals.

"In Europe where gasoline prices are very high you have CO-2 reduction path that is coming down quite nicely," Ford said, referring to carbon dioxide emissions.

"It's because there's a convergence of pocketbook issues with society issues," he added, saying the same thing may soon prove true in the United States.

If it does, he added, cleaner-burning vehicles will be not just a social imperative, but also "a business opportunity," Ford said.
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Old 05-14-2004, 05:18   #2 (permalink)
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Re: USA:Ford CEO sees upside to higher U.S. gasoline prices

Upbeat Ford pledges to build greener cars

CEO aims to increase mileage, cut emissions

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. — responding to criticism from environmentalists — told company shareholders Thursday that the automaker is committed to spending 50 percent of its research budget on technology designed to boost fuel economy and reduce harmful emissions.

Environmentalists demonstrated outside the company’s 49th annual meeting in Louisville, and again called on Ford to increase the average fuel economy of its vehicles to 50 miles a gallon by 2010.

“We plan to build great products, a strong business and a better world,” Bill Ford said.

The comments come as gasoline prices climb above $2 a gallon in many regions and U.S. consumers continue to snap up large SUVs and pickups trucks.

Last year, Ford rescinded a pledge to increase the fuel economy of its SUVs by 25 percent by 2005, drawing criticism from environmental groups.

Ford shareholders defeated proposals that called for the company to take greater responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and elect a greater number of independent directors.

Three members of the Ford family — which controls 40 percent of the automaker through a special class of shares — sit on the company’s board.

“We’re never going to pass a motion with the (Ford) family having such a huge chunk (of control),” said Jason Mark, spokesman for Global Exchange, an environmental group that has criticized Ford’s poor fuel economy ratings.

Of the six top automakers that sell vehicles in the United States, Ford ranks last with a lineup that averages 18.8 mpg, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ford has trailed major rivals since 1999 when it tied with General Motors Corp. for the worst rating.

Bill Ford said the launch of the gasoline-electric Escape Hybrid SUV later this year and current sales of the low-emission PZEV Focus represent a “business opportunity” while addressing the concerns of environmentalists.

In addition, the automaker is launching three new vehicles with an optional continuously variable transmission, which saves fuel and helps optimize engine performance.

Bill Ford pledged to invest half of the company’s research budget in environmentally friendly technologies, but the automaker does not disclose a figure.

More than 94 percent of shareholders voting rejected a proposal that would have forced Ford to report past and future greenhouse gas emissions.

Patricia Day — spokeswoman for the proposal’s sponsor, the Sisters of St. Dominic — remained encouraged, largely because of Bill Ford’s personal commitment to environmental issues.

“We’re not on the company’s case,” Day said.

The meeting, attended by 170 people, lasted just one hour and 45 minutes. It was the shortest session since the heady days of 2001 when Ford celebrated record earnings — $5.4 billion in 2000.

And the mood was subdued compared with previous shareholder meetings when staggering losses — $6.4 billion in 2001 and 2002 — fueled tension among shareholders.

Bill Ford was mostly upbeat in his remarks, citing the automaker’s $1.9 billion first-quarter profit as evidence the restructuring plan started more than two years ago is working. He was interrupted by applause just once when he cited the company has beaten Wall Street earnings expectations for nine straight quarters.

“Overall, we’re very pleased with our progress so far, but we know our job is far from over,” Bill Ford said. “As you know, this industry remains fiercely competitive worldwide.”

Shareholders rejected by 90 percent a proposal that would limit the number of employees on Ford’s board of directors.

Bill Ford said such a move would restrict the company too much, citing the 2002 appointment of board member Carl Reichardt — former vice-chairman of Ford who has since retired — to assist with the company’s turnaround plan.

“I can say with a great deal of understatement, that was the right decision,” said Bill Ford, who also spoke out against term limits for directors.

Thursday Ford shares closed down 8 cents at $14.41 on the New York Stock Exchange.
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My next Ford.....
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