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Sierra Club Blasts Ford's Environmental Record

Shortly before a shareholder meeting, an ad accuses the carmaker and its chairman of not keeping some promises.

June 12, 2003|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

When William Clay Ford Jr. calls to order Ford Motor Co.'s 100th anniversary annual meeting Monday, chances are that some shareholders in the audience will be clutching a full-page Sierra Club ad scolding the chairman and his company, saying they have reneged on promises to make Ford the nation's most environmentally friendly carmaker.

The ad by the San Francisco-based environmental group appears in this week's BusinessWeek magazine and is scheduled to run in the New York Times before Ford's centennial birthday bash Monday.

Under the headline "1903-2003: A Century of Innovation ... Except at Ford," the ad says the company's cars and trucks today get worse gas mileage than its original Model T of almost a century ago.

The ad says that the Model T got about 25 miles per gallon, while the Ford Explorer averages 16 mpg.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the company's average today for all cars and trucks combined is 19.3 mpg.

In a statement, Ford did not dispute the Sierra Club's claims, but called the timing of the ad unfortunate. Ford also said the company had done a number of things that are environmentally friendly.

Zachary Roth, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the group took the unusual tactic to draw shareholder attention to these concerns. The club isn't planning any additional protests or actions at the shareholder meeting, he said.

However, former Sierra Club President Robert Cox has said that he would seek election to Ford's board at the company's 2004 meeting and would "campaign" for the post over the next 12 months by focusing on the automaker's environmental record.

Because the Ford family controls 40% of the voting power, analysts say Cox's chances are slim.

The Sierra Club wants Bill Ford -- once held up by the group as a model of environmental concern -- to commit the company to 100 years of improving fuel economy.

"We have been disappointed with Bill Ford's record since he took over the company, even though we were optimistic at first," Roth said.

Among the disappointments, he said, were Ford's decision last year to join other auto executives in lobbying against a move in Congress to boost the corporate average fuel efficiency standard, and his recent announcement that his company would not be able to make good on his promise a 25% boost in fuel efficiency of Ford sport utility vehicles by 2005.

Ford has told reporters that he is baffled by the attack and that he and his company are committed to improving the environment.

The company this week announced that it is launching a test fleet of hydrogen-powered, zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in Canada -- where the major fuel cell manufacturers are congregated. Ford also has said the company will introduce a hybrid gasoline-electric Escape SUV this year that will get nearly 40 mpg.

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