The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Activists Deride Ford over Fuel Inefficiency, ‘Greenwashingâ€TM

by Kari Lydersen

While Ford works with police to teach drivers gas-saving techniques, environmentalists plan protests aimed at pressuring the company to increase its own fleet’s fuel efficiency.

Oct. 28, 2005 – Imagine seeing the flashing blue and red lights behind you and wondering what you did wrong as you are pulled over by a cop. Then imagine that instead of a ticket for a broken tail light or illegal left turn, the officer hands you a gift card for $25 in gas. The officer says you are being rewarded for your fuel efficient driving practices, like accelerating or braking gently. Courtesy of Ford Motor Company and BP Amoco.

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This is part of Ford’s latest push to, in its words, "reduce gasoline consumption."

"This is obviously a crucial time for people with gas prices the way they are," said Ford spokesperson Marisa Bradley. "There are simple things people don’t realize can increase their efficiency, like tire pressure, decreasing drag on vehicles like those sports flags."

But Ford’s critics say this is another example of "greenwashing" by the company, which has been slow to roll out promised fuel-efficient vehicles and has received bottom rankings in US Environmental Protection Agency average fuel efficiency ratings for the last six years.

"There’s definitely some value in efficient driving, but we see it as laughable that the biggest polluter in the nation is teaching people to drive more efficiently rather than improving their vehicles," said Mike Hudema of Global Exchange, a nonprofit group that, along with the Rainforest Action Network, is coordinating the 2-year-old Jumpstart Ford campaign. "We’re saying it’s time the rhetoric meets the reality."

The Jumpstart Ford campaign says Ford’s current average is actually lower than the Model-T’s fuel efficiency back at the start of the century.

During October, Ford representatives working with local police "patrolled" city streets in Ford Mercury Mariner hybrid SUVs and awarded the gas cards to "efficient" drivers in ten cities including Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Miami. They also held "fuel economy schools" for local police departments in each city, instructing officers in the virtues of conservative city driving and other fuel-saving measures.

Activists affiliated with the Jumpstart Ford campaign plan to respond with actions in more than 100 cities in the US, Canada and Europe on November 12. The Ruckus Society, known for organizing theatrical demonstrations during anti-globalization protests, has also signed on to offer support and suggestions to activists who will organize their own events at local dealerships.

"We think this is a smart way to talk about our oil addiction," said Ruckus Executive Director John Sellers. "The changes we’re calling for are critical for the environment and also make a lot of sense from a market standpoint."

He said the American companies Dodge, General Moters and Ford are getting "left in the dust" by foreign automakers – namely Toyota and Honda – which have much higher average fuel efficiency ratings and offer more hybrid gas-electric models.

In the July 2005 EPA rankings, Honda led the pack for all-fleet average efficiency at 25.1 miles per gallon. Ford was last with 19.5 mpg, the only manufacturer other than DaimlerChrysler to fall short of the 20-gallon threshold. The industry average was 21 mpg. The Jumpstart Ford campaign says Ford’s current average is actually lower than the Model-T’s fuel efficiency back at the start of the century.

A 2004 study concluded 161,000 new jobs would be created by investing in existing technologies to reach a national average of 40 mpg by 2015.

"Right now the Big Three [American automakers] and Big Oil are in lockstep synergy with each other," Sellers told The NewStandard. "We need to drive a wedge between Big Oil and Big Auto, and turn Big Auto into smart transportation."

Like past actions by the campaign, including at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2004 and at Ford’s centennial celebration in Michigan in 2003, the aim of the Nov. 12 events is to educate drivers and dealers and to pressure the company to increase the average fuel efficiency of its vehicles. The activists demand that Ford achieve a 50 mpg average fuel efficiency for its fleet by 2010 and end tailpipe emissions – through hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicles, hybrids or other non-gas alternatives – by 2020.

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicted the economy would benefit from moving existing fuel-efficient technologies into cars more rapidly. The advocacy group’s 2004 study concluded 161,000 new jobs would be created by investing in existing technologies to reach a national average of 40 mpg by 2015.

The Union’s report said the jobs would primarily be created in the auto industry, finance, services and other manufacturing, with 40,800 new positions in the automotive sector. The only predicted large net job loss would be in the mineral and petroleum refining industry, which would lose an estimated 29,000 employees.

And, according to the report, the new technology would save consumers a net $23 billion in 2015 alone and cut domestic oil use by 2.3 million barrels per day – nearly the amount the US currently imports from the Persian Gulf.

Chris Morrisroe, another Ford spokesperson, told TNS the company has "the same goals" as the activists but is working on a different timeline.

"We’re working for the same thing in the long run," she said. "We just differ on the timing of when it can happen. We’re working as fast as we can."

Morrisroe said Ford ranks at the bottom in the EPA listings for average fuel economy because its signature models are SUVs and trucks like the F150 pickup. "That’s part of our mix, that’s our customer base, so we have to strive to make those more efficient," she said, noting that the F150 will be added to the company’s "flex fleet" of vehicles that can run on both gas and domestically produced ethanol next year.

According to Morrisroe, Ford is working on four main avenues to increase fuel efficiency. Those are the development of internal combustion hydrogen-powered vehicles, which burn hydrogen and emit only water; the development of clean diesel; gas-electric hybrids; and hydrogen fuel-cell cars, which burn hydrogen to charge a battery. She said a zero emissions fleet is likely to become commercially viable "around the middle of the century."

In October, Ford announced "a commitment to increase global hybrid production ten-fold, to approximately 250,000 units by 2010." The company said "more than half of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury line-up will have hybrid capability." The Mercury Mariner hybrid will be released in fall 2006, and the Ford Escape hybrid SUV has been on the streets for a year.

Hudema of Global Exchange described the 250,000 goal as "not all that earth-shattering," and said Ford needs to do more. He also said activists with the Jumpstart Ford campaign doubt Ford’s stated commitments because of several incidents, including the company’s move in August 2004 to repossess and crush a fleet of its Norwegian-manufactured demonstration "Think City" electric vehicles.

Ford had leased 350 units of the Think City model to owners as part of a test program, in response to California regulations passed in 1990 mandating that 2 percent of all state vehicle sales by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003 be zero-emission autos. But in 2003 the regulations were amended and the zero-emissions standard dropped in response to pressure from automakers, including Ford.

So Ford ended the Think City experiment and ordered all the cars repossessed and destroyed, even as many of the people leasing them begged to be able to buy the cars from Ford. After outcry from the lessees and activists in the US and Norway, Ford returned the cars to Norway for sale.

Ford also similarly discontinued a line of electric Ranger pickup trucks and ordered them destroyed, though it reversed in January 2005, after an eight-day "car sit" protest by the Jumpstart Ford campaign in Sacramento. Environmentalists are especially disappointed by the aborting of electric vehicle production, since electric vehicles can be recharged by solar power and are a more ecological alternative than models running on hydrogen fuel, which involves the consumption of fossil fuels for processing and transport.

But Morrisroe, with Ford, said: "Electric vehicles have a very limited range… The customer has to make too many compromises with them. We have to make sure we provide what our customers are looking for. That was just a demonstration program, and the demonstration is not going to be continued."

In January 2005 Ford was among a number of automakers that sued the state of California to block the implementation of legislation known as the "clean cars law" or Pavley law, after sponsor Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. The law requires the state to achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from cars sold in-state by model year 2016.

"We have periodic conversations with Ford, and they tell us it’s the consumers holding them back," Hudema said. "We think that’s a hollow argument. We’re seeing tragic events because of the damage oil causes – global warming, increased hurricane activity, Arctic melting, all the economic issues. We need to end our dependency on oil, and one of the main ways to do it is increasing the fuel efficiency of our cars."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Kari Lydersen is a contributing journalist.

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