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Environmentalists' campaign takes on Bill Ford Jr. over failed effort to improve SUV fuel efficiency

By Jeff Plungis / Detroit News Washington Bureau

(Photo)California-based Blue Water Network spearheaded this ad campaign in response to Ford's pledge in 2000 to improve SUV fuel economy.

WASHINGTON — Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr., once a favorite of environmentalists, has become their prime target in an increasingly vitriolic campaign against gas-guzzling vehicles.

In full-page national newspaper ads that began appearing Wednesday, the groups depicted Bill Ford with a growing nose, with the banner: “Bill Ford Jr. or Pinocchio? Don’t Buy His Environmental Rhetoric. Don’t Buy His Cars.”

Russell Long, director of the California-based Blue Water Network, which is spearheading the campaign, said the ads were in response to Ford’s broken pledge to improve SUV fuel economy.

Ford pledged in July 2000 that the company would improve the fuel economy of its SUVs by 25 percent over five years. General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG made similar pledges soon afterward.

But last year, Ford executives said it would no longer be possible to meet the goal, citing an unfavorable business climate and technological challenges.

“Ford has certainly been up front about the problem of global warming and the need to tackle greenhouse gas emissions,” Long said. “But when push comes to shove, they are unwilling to do what’s necessary to confront the issue in a meaningful way. There’s a consequence in the real world to breaking one’s commitments.”

The ads were originally slated to run last summer, Long said, when he traveled to Dearborn to speak at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June. Instead, the group delayed to meet with company officials to discuss steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Long met with Ford officials in Dearborn in September.

Long said he asked the company to support a California law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and back national legislation to raise the fuel economy average of light trucks to 40 miles per gallon. The decision to run the ads came when he concluded the company would not make any specific pledge on fuel economy, Long said.

Ford officials said Bill Ford had reaffirmed the company’s belief that it needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help combat global warming at the shareholders meeting.

They described the talks with Blue Water Network as a “dialogue,” not a negotiation.

“The Bluewater Network ad does not reflect the reality of Ford Motor Co.’s environmental commitments,” said Ford spokeswoman Carolyn Brown.

Bill Ford has described himself as a life-long environmentalist and was initially embraced by activists after he became chairman of Ford Motor in 1999. But he has said recently that environmentalists are taking advantage of his high profile to draw headlines.

Brown cited Ford’s marketing of extremely clean “partial zero emissions” versions of its Focus sedan, wagon and hatchback, a forthcoming gas-electric hybrid version of the Escape SUV and the company’s commitment to fuel-cell research.

The fuel economy of Ford’s light truck lineup was 20.3 mpg for the 2002 model year, the last year for which the government has published complete data. Under federal regulations, an automaker’s fleet of light trucks must average 20.7 mpg in the 2004 model year. That requirement will rise to 22.2 mpg by 2007. Cars must average 27.5 mpg.
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