(BN) Ridiculed Bill Ford Is Laughing Now as Rival Carmakers Go Green


Ridiculed Bill Ford Is Laughing Now as Rival Carmakers Go Green
2011-01-10 05:01:01.2 GMT

(For more coverage of the Detroit auto show, see {SHOW

By Keith Naughton
Jan. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman
Bill Ford Jr. faced ridicule and resistance over the years for
suggesting the automaker his great-grandfather founded needed to
go green to survive. And that was from inside his own company.
The 53-year-old scion will roll out three new electrified
vehicles -- a battery-powered car, a plug-in model and a hybrid
wagon -- today at the Detroit auto show, in what may be a
validation of his vision.
When Ford joined the automaker's board in 1988, his fellow
directors considered him a "Bolshevik" for dubbing himself an
"environmental industrialist," he recalled. When he became
chairman in 1999, he declared a "clean revolution," only to
see his executives oppose his efforts. While he rankled rivals
by saying cars cause global warming, environmentalists
excoriated him for failing to deliver on fuel-economy promises.
"The skepticism came from all comers," Ford said in an
interview on Jan. 6. "Our competitors used to love to laugh
about the Ford green story. Those same people now are all
falling all over themselves to see who can be greenest, which I
find amusing."
The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker's new Focus Electric
car, C-Max Energi plug-in and C-Max hybrid wagon follow the U.S.
sales debuts last month of General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt
plug-in and Nissan Motor Co.'s battery-powered Leaf. Toyota
Motor Corp. also is introducing a new lineup of Prius hybrid
models at the Detroit show.

'Head in Sand'

Automakers are finally getting his message, Bill Ford said.
"Our industry had its head in the sand," he said. "It
was bereft of a vision for where it should go. It was important
to signal that we understood, at least Ford understood, I
understood, society's concerns and we were going to go to work
to try to address them."
Ford was a lonely voice in his company in the late 1990s in
support of environmental sustainability and fuel efficiency.
Back then, the Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle was king of
the road and gasoline was less than $1.50 a gallon. His
executives scoffed when he issued a press release pledging
"customers can have any vehicle they want, as long as it is
"Bill wanted to do it, but nobody else did," recalled
John Wolkonowicz, a former Ford product planner who consulted
with him in those days. "He was getting a lot of pushback."

Unfulfilled Pledge

He fought attempts to kill off a hybrid version of the Ford
Escape SUV, which was introduced in 2004 and was the first
gasoline-electric model from a U.S. automaker. Still, when Ford
failed to deliver on a promise to boost SUV fuel economy by 25
percent, environmentalists responded with ads that caricatured
him as Pinocchio.
"Perhaps some of the things I said were before the
technology was in place to fully deliver it," Ford said. "But
it was important to raise the issue."
His company now sells three hybrid models: the Escape and
the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans. The Focus Electric is
slated to begin sales late this year, with the C-Max Energi and
C-Max Hybrid set for 2012.
And environmentalists are embracing him again.
"Bill Ford deserves a lot of credit for starting this,"
said David Friedman, deputy director of the vehicle program at
the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. "They were the
first to put out a domestic hybrid and they put out a family-car
hybrid with the Fusion that beat Toyota. That in itself is
incredibly impressive."

Cultural Change

What's most impressive is that Ford managed to finally
change his company's culture to make fuel economy a priority,
Friedman said.
The turning point came when Ford replaced himself as chief
executive officer by hiring Alan Mulally from Boeing Co. in
2006, Friedman said. "It's a credit to him that he knew he
needed help and he got it."
With Mulally as his ally, Bill Ford set a strategy to have
the best fuel-efficiency rating in every vehicle category in
which the automaker competes. That has required billions of
dollars to overhaul engines and transmissions, as well as
transforming plants that had made SUVs to produce cars. The
three new electric models will be built in a Wayne, Michigan,
factory where Ford once manufactured Lincoln Navigator SUVs.
"We've placed a big bet on fuel economy," Ford said.
"We've taken a point of view that gasoline prices over time
certainly will get higher and customers will start voting with
their wallets."

'Wrong Direction'

So far, consumers are hesitant to do that. Ford already is
selling more fuel-efficient cars, yet hybrids accounted for just
1.8 percent of its U.S. sales last year. Industrywide, hybrids
fell to 2.4 percent of the U.S. market from 2.8 percent in 2009.
"Hybrids are heading in the wrong direction," said
Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with research firm IHS Automotive
in Lexington, Massachusetts. "We have this disconnect between
the need for alternate-power vehicles and consumers who are
satisfied with traditional vehicles."
The need for electrified vehicles is being driven in part
by U.S. regulations that require automakers to boost average
fuel economy by company to 35.5 mpg in 2016, from 25 mpg now.
Broader acceptance of electric cars will require more
government action, Bill Ford said.
"It's critical that as a nation we have an energy policy
that really decides to focus on electricity," Ford said. "We
can provide all the hardware, but unless there's ubiquity of
plugging, where you can plug in at the mall and at work, then
we're not there yet as a nation."

Plug-In Promise

Outlets are important because plug-in hybrids show the most
promise, he said. The C-Max Energi plug-in can go more than 500
miles on a full charge and a full tank. The Focus Electric,
which has no gasoline engine, needs to recharge at least three
hours at a special 240-volt station after driving 100 miles or
"The plug-ins are the most liberating because they take
away range anxiety," Ford said. "A pure electric, you run it
down and that's it, you're out of juice."
Electricity will eventually replace fossil fuels to power
vehicles, and the current efforts may someday be seen as the
turning point, he said.
"This is really the first shot at the mainstream
customer," Ford said. "The day I had always believed would
come has arrived."

For Related News and Information:
Ford and alternative energy: F US <Equity> TCNI ALTNRG <GO>
Auto-sales statistics: ATSL <GO>
Autos and regulation: TNI AUT RULES <GO>
Auto-show stories: TNI AUT SHOW <GO>

--Editors: John Lear, Jamie Butters

To contact the reporter on this story:
Keith Naughton in Southfield, Michigan, at +1-248-827-2941 or

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jamie Butters at +1-248-827-2944 or jbutters@bloomberg.net