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Ford tackles climate change

From detnews| April 25,2007

In one of the strongest statements on climate change ever made by a U.S. auto industry executive, Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally said Monday that global warming is real, manmade and caused in part by auto emissions.

"The vast majority of data indicates that the temperature has increased, and I believe the correlation and the analysis says that is mainly because of the greenhouse gases keeping the heat in. You can just plot it with the Industrial Revolution and the use of all of our resources," he said.

Mulally made the comments during a telephone press conference called to announce the promotion of Susan Cischke, Ford's vice president of environmental and safety engineering, to the newly created post of senior vice president in charge of sustainability, environment and safety engineering -- a move Mulally said was meant to underscore the importance of this issue to Ford's corporate strategy.

"It's about sustainability, it's about mobility, it's about safety, it's about (being) stewards of our environment," he said. "This is the biggest agenda we have at Ford. I think it's going to be one of the most important considerations to the customers that buy our products and services going forward."

Also Monday, General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the U.S. government needs to take a Manhattan Project-like approach to creating a national energy policy, bringing the best minds in the country to bear on the issue of energy sustainability and independence.

Dismissing skeptics

America's automakers have acknowledged that climate change is a serious issue, and one their industry must address.

But Mulally's statement was one of the clearest yet that global warming is not a natural phenomenon, as some skeptics -- including Lutz -- have suggested.

"I'm just gratified that it seems like, in the court of public opinion, we have moved to the place where we all are starting to appreciate and agree that this really is an issue, and that we all want to do something about it," he said.

It was a statement he reiterated Monday afternoon in an e-mail to Ford employees, a copy of which was obtained by The Detroit News.

"I firmly believe we are at an inflection point in the world's history as it relates to climate change and energy security. The time for debating whether climate change is real has past It is time for a conversation about what we, as a society, intend to do to address it," Mulally wrote.

To that end, the CEO said Cischke will oversee a company-wide effort to create a greener Ford.

"It's the product development side, it's the manufacturing piece, it's the supplier community -- it's a lot of things. It also includes the working conditions aspect, the human rights issue. It's balancing the people side of it as well as the economic side and the environmental side and trying to figure out how it fits together," Cischke told reporters.

"While we have a clear picture of where we'd like to be in the next five to seven years, I've got to look beyond that," she said.

Environmentalists cautious

While environmentalists welcomed Mulally's candor on global warming, some questioned his choice to lead Ford's environmental efforts.

"We're a little concerned. Sue Cischke has been Ford's public face for fighting a lot of things that would help stop global warming," said the Sierra Club's Brendan Bell. "Clearly, there is a desire at certain levels of Ford's management to promote sustainability. But they're much better at creating new positions than new policies."

Ford has drawn fire in the past for reneging on environmental promises, like then-CEO Bill Ford Jr.'s pledge to build 250,000 hybrids annually by 2010. Ford retracted that commitment less than a year later.

"We didn't have it all thought out as much as we should. Maybe we got out a little too far in front. But you can't take away our intent," Mulally said.

Promoting greener transportation has been a big priority for Bill Ford, now the company's executive chairman.

During his tenure, Ford introduced the world's first hybrid sport utility vehicle, but also made plenty of big gas-guzzlers.

And the Dearborn-based automaker continued to resist government efforts to increase federal fuel economy standards.

On Monday, Mulally said increasing those regulations only makes sense as part of a broader solution to global warming, one that includes sacrifices by other industries.

"We're only going to make the progress we all want to make if we move this up to include the generation of all energy, as well as the use of the energy," he said.

Lutz also called for a more comprehensive energy policy Monday.

"We really want to push for the transformational solution," he said during a speech at an automotive conference in Louisville.

For example, he said the federal government should do more to convince oil companies to install ethanol pumps at gas stations.

While GM has suggested more research needs to be done into the causes of global warming, the company told The News it is not waiting for the answer.

"We're not waiting for the scientific community to finish its discussion on the specifics of climate change," said GM spokesman Greg Martin.

"As we've said from L.A. to Capitol Hill, we see it as both a business necessity and as our obligation to society to develop advanced technologies that run on diverse sources of energy to lessen the automobile's impact on the environment."

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