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http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/190753_ford15.html

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Ford lost its green machines (Editorial)


By MICHAEL BRUNE
GUEST COLUMNIST


On Aug. 16th, Bill Ford Jr., chief executive of Ford Motor Co. and a self-proclaimed environmentalist, wrote to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to lobby for a veto on a bill encouraging more fuel-efficient and low-emission cars on California's highways.
The move came as a shock to industry observers who have been watching Ford rack up environmental credentials in 2004, culminating in the much anticipated (and long-delayed) release of the first American-made gas-electric hybrid vehicle, the 36 mpg Escape hybrid sport utility vehicle.
As the dust clears from the heavy marketing of the Ford hybrid SUV a different story appears; the company plans to build just 20,000 hybrids in the next model year, less than six-tenths of one percent of its total U.S. fleet production. When the Environmental Protection Agency announced automaker fuel economy rankings earlier this year, Ford finished dead last among the country's top six automakers -- a dubious honor the company has held five years running. Indeed, Ford's reign as America's biggest oil addict may be a long one. Earlier this summer, Ford quietly canceled its cleaner natural gas vehicle program. Ford is also crushing its innovative electric vehicles -- a fleet of almost 3,000 cars and trucks, nearly all in California, that are safe, produce zero emissions, and are wildly popular with their owners.
And now, adding insult to injury, Ford is lobbying against California's latest fuel economy incentive.
The reason? It happens that the legislation, passed in both houses of the Legislature, sets a standard that no Ford vehicle currently meets, save those EVs that it's currently taking off the highways. California is offering carpool lane access to vehicles that 1) use hybrid electric technology; 2) have zero or extremely low emissions; and 3) that achieve fuel economy of at least 45 mpg. Rather than build cars that meet America's highest fuel efficiency standards and are the least polluting in the country, Ford is lobbying to change the rules. No wonder the Los Angeles Times calls Bill Ford an environmental "girlie-man."
Has Bill Ford Jr. lost touch altogether? Oil prices have reached record highs in 2004. Even with thousands of dollars in incentives Ford can hardly sell its gas-guzzling SUVs. Conflict in the Middle East is causing Americans to wonder whether we can afford the true cost of our oil dependence.
The receding glaciers in our national parks, the melting polar ice caps, and the intensity of storms battering residents in Florida all offer testimony to the deadly risks of inaction. Even a January 2004 report from the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments considers catastrophic climate change a greater national security threat than terrorism over the next 15 years.
What the world needs in 2004 is a dramatic shift away from our oil addiction. It's time for Ford Motor Co. -- and all automakers -- to implement visionary innovation on a grand scale. Rather than lobbying to lower state incentives and producing a few token hybrid vehicles, Ford should get out of last place for fuel economy for major automakers and put a hybrid engine in every vehicle. Rather than killing its EV program over the objection of EV drivers, Ford should set a timeline to manufacture a full fleet of zero emission vehicles by 2020.
We can do better. Studies have shown that increasing America's fuel economy to 45 mpg (the same level as the California incentive that Bill Ford Jr. is arguing to lower), we would save more than three million barrels of oil per day, which is more than we import from the entire Middle East.
It's time to revive the American spirit of innovation. A country that cured polio, put a man on the moon, mapped the human genome and doubled life expectancy in the 20th century can surely figure out a way to make clean cars in this one.
It's time for Ford to get itself into gear and lead us forward.

Michael Brune is executive director of the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco.
 
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