Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Ford becomeslatest company to tackle global warming emissions

In a recent powwow of top executives, the US auto giant laid out an aggressive plan to improve its cars' fuel economy by 80 percent by 2030

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Detroit

William Ford Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Co, is pictured in an undated company photo. Top executives at Ford have privately endorsed an aggressive goal of reining in global warming emissions from the automaker's vehicles by 2030, joining companies like BP and Toyota in approaching the issue as a business opportunity rather than a regulatory chore.

PHOTO: FORD MOTOR CO VIA THE NY TIMES

Top executives at the Ford Motor Co. have privately endorsed an aggressive goal of reining in global warming emissions from the automaker's vehicles by 2030, joining companies like BP and Toyota in approaching the issue as a business opportunity rather than a regulatory chore.

Ford's goal, according to its own internal projections, would require an improvement of about 80 percent in the fuel economy of its cars and trucks by 2030, according to people who have been informed of the plan.

The goal was laid out by the company's chairman, William Ford Jr., and other executives at a meeting on Aug. 3 at the company's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

Companies including Ford have used computer models to assess how their current emissions contribute to concentrations of carbon and other gases linked by scientific organizations to a global warming trend. They have also modeled how they would have to reduce their own emissions to scale back their environmental impact.

Ford's plan envisions carbon concentrations in the atmosphere that are significantly above current levels but well below what they would be by 2030 if left unchecked. The company is studying long-range product development strategies to reach its goal and has not yet established shorter-range targets. Among those strategies could be more reliance on hybrid technology or other advances, like cleaner diesel engines and hydrogen fuel cells.

The company's senior executive team attended the August meeting, including Ford; James Padilla, the chief operating officer; Allan Gilmour, the vice chairman; James Vella, Ford's chief of staff; and Philip Martens, executive vice president for product creation.

The company had not planned to publicize the strategy because it is a long-term objective subject to change and because the company has recently been the focus of stinging attacks from environmental groups for falling short of previously stated environmental objectives.

Most recently, the company said it was abandoning a commitment made in 2000 to improve the fuel economy of its sport utility vehicles by 25 percent over five years.

"This is a stunning change of direction for Ford, whose emissions are greater than all of Mexico," said Daniel Becker, the top global warming strategist at the Sierra Club, which has long been pressuring the company to improve its automotive emissions and fuel economy. "This really is a better idea. We will continue to work with them to ensure that they implement this commitment."

Asked about the meeting, Carolyn Brown, a Ford spokeswoman, said: "It's a group of senior high level Ford executives that meet to discuss a sensible approach to the issues of climate change, energy security and fuel economy. The work of the group is intended to help Ford drive its product development strategies for the future."

"Beyond that I don't want to get into any specifics of internal meetings," she added.

The August meeting came soon before California adopted a regulation that will force automakers to reduce global warming emissions in the state by 30 percent by the 2016 model year. Ford and other automakers, including Toyota and Honda, have argued that the California regulation moves too far too fast, and the industry is expected to sue to block the measure.

Ford's internal strategy, by contrast, would call for a reduction in emissions of about 45 percent, equivalent to a roughly 80 percent improvement in fuel economy, according to its projections. Smog-forming particles that come out of car tailpipes have long been regulated, but the California regulation is the first in the US to tackle global warming emissions.

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