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Ford Sees Image Problems With SUVs

Autos: Company admits conflicts with its efforts to be environmentally responsible.

May 12, 2000|From Reuters

ATLANTA — Ford Motor Co., the world's No. 2 auto maker, on Thursday conceded for the first time that its popular--but gas-guzzling--sport utility vehicles pose problems for a company that wants to be known as an environmental leader.

Ford, in a wide-ranging, 98-page corporate citizenship report, said its market leadership in sport utility vehicles (SUVs), the most profitable group of vehicles Ford sells, has created a dilemma for the company as it works to be at the forefront of improving fuel economy and cutting emissions.

"There are very real conflicts between Ford's current business practices, consumer choices and emerging views of sustainability," Ford said in the report, released at its annual shareholders' meeting at the Atlanta zoo.

Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., an avid environmentalist and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, has made social and environmental responsibility a key tenet of his company philosophy.

But sport utilities and other light trucks, which typically are less fuel-efficient than cars and are allowed to pollute more than cars, have surged in popularity in the last 10 years as consumers seek more utility and functionality.

At last year's annual meeting, William Ford defended SUVs by saying the company was responding to customer demands and doing so in an environmentally responsible way by slashing their emissions. Ford also said the company could make small cars that get 80 mpg, but if customers do not buy them, they do not help the environment or the auto maker.

Although the auto maker is taking a risk by publishing a report that airs opposing views--including a stinging report from the Sierra Club environmental group--Ford said it is necessary to show the company is serious about its goals.

The Sierra Club, in a response Thursday, said it looks forward to working with Ford on improving fuel efficiency.

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