Bill Ford Has a Better Idea

The new Ford Motor chairman looks to the future - beyond gas guzzlers, gasoline, and maybe even privately owned autos

| March/April 2001



Life After Oil
-Jeremiah Creedon

Bill Ford Has a Better Idea
-Martin Wright

The Rail Revival
-Jay Walljasper

Car-Sharing in Portland
-Steve Gutmann

Motorless in Montreal
-Nick Peck

Discuss Life After Oil in Café Utne. Click here: café
The view from the Ford Motor Company chairman’s office is a big one.Wide open plains stretch out from the Detroit suburbs, knitted together by ribbons of gray highways.

From this perch, William Clay Ford Jr. has spent his first year as Ford chairman dropping a series of small bombshells on the American auto industry. He has warned that it risks becoming a pariah on the scale of Big Tobacco if it doesn’t clean up its act, and he has invited everyone from Greenpeace to Amnesty International to come in and help him do just that. He has pulled Ford out of the steadfastly anti-environment Global Climate Coalition and made the case for a 50-cent a gallon rise in gas taxes.

And his sense of mission seems to have infected his colleagues. In the foreword to the company’s first corporate citizenship report, CEO Jac Nasser insists that 'Ford can become a company whose decisions . . . restore

Hitchin’ A Ride

Commuters in the rural Geronimo Valley of Marin County, California can now hitch a ride with little fear thanks to a new Ride Registry program, reports Hope magazine (Fall 2000). Both riders and drivers who pass background checks by the sheriff’s office are issued photo IDs which they show to one another before sharing a ride. About 10 percent of the valley’s residents participate. 'It helps turn strangers into neighbors,' says Debbie Hubsmith who initiated the program through a volunteer group.

the environment and contribute to the creation of social and economic equity in communities around the world.' This is a car company, remember. On the practical side, Bill Ford is overseeing an investment program that is pouring R&D dollars into electric cars, and alternative fuel vehicles.It’s a long-term vision that could transform the company’s core business from selling cars into selling mobility.

'We need a second revolution,' he says. 'Our industry has brought tre-mendous benefits—the freedom to live and work and vacation where you choose—but they’ve come at a cost. And that cost is primarily to the environment. . . . Our goal has to be nothing less than an emission-free vehicle that is built in clean plants, which actively contribute to the environment. And it can happen within my lifetime—hopefully within my working lifetime.'

At 43, Ford speaks with an almost boyish urgency, interrupting questions in his impatience to get on to the next point, eager to describe the potential of solar-powered fuel cells, but also to declare a willingness to learn from protesters in Seattle and Prague.

To say that he was born into the auto industry is an understatement. His great-grandfather (Henry Ford of Model-T fame) founded it. So his career was mapped out from the start? 'Not at all. When I was at university, which is always a rebellious time, I was really drawn to working for an environmental group,' he says. He joined the Ford board in 1988, barely into his 30s, fresh from running its Swiss operations—and already possessed of an address book bulging with environmentalists. It didn’t exactly endear him to his management colleagues. 'They told me to stop messing around with the ‘crazies,’' he says. His refusal continues to irritate an industry whose initial instinct is to file all environmentalists under E for enemy. 'One of the interesting little secrets of being green is that is saves you money,' Ford adds, noting that the company’s current environmental standards are saving it millions of dollars a year through reduced energy and water use, reduced chemical handling, and recycling.

For the most part, environmentalists have been swift to applaud the new chairman. 'We’re very positive,' says Friends of the Earth’s Roger Higman. 'The great thing is that he’s starting to convert his enthusiasm into action. Obviously, turning round a major manufacturer is going to take years, but we’re very hopeful.' Some are more skeptical. Chris Ball of Ozone Action has called him 'a good man in a tough position,' but warned that continued commitment to gas-guzzling SUVs 'threatens to dwarf the good works.'

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