Ford has made a commitment to reduce the fuel consumption of its North American sport-utility vehicles (SUVs – 4WDs or 4x4s to Malaysians) by 25% by the beginning of 2005. The commitment, made by Ford president and CEO Jac Nasser, covers the company’s entire SUV line-up as well as those of
Land Rover, which is now part of the Ford group. The products include models such as the Ford Explorer, Expedition and Excursion as well as the new Escape.
“We are taking this very significant action with some of our most popular products because it is the right thing to do for our customers and for our stockholders,” said Mr Nasser. “It is the next logical step in our ‘Cleaner, Safer, Sooner’ campaign which we began with the announcement two and a half years ago that all Ford SUVs would be low-emission vehicles.”
Mr Nasser noted that SUV customers are asking for more fuel-efficient vehicles and explained that Ford’s strategy is to maintain and enhance the function of their SUVs while making substantial fuel economy improvements.
“This is a customer-driven environmental responsibility. We aren’t asking our customers to compromise safety, performance or functionality,” he stressed.
“This initiative also responds to a growing societal objective, strengthens Ford Motor Company’s environmental leadership role, and supports our corporate citizenship policies,” he added.
Under its ‘Cleaner, Safer, Sooner’ pledge, Ford has stated that it will make significant improvements to its products in the areas of safety and environment when the technology is available, the action is affordable, and when the application can be done in large volume for maximum positive impact.
About 70% of the fuel economy gains will be achieved through improvements in existing vehicle lines, including the application of advanced powertrain technologies, weight reductions and improved aerodynamics. The other 30% of improvements will come from the inherent fuel-efficiency of new models such as the Escape and the 2003 Escape Hybrid which is claimed to be able to do 16.8 kms/litre in city driving.
On existing products, a systems engineering approach will be used, with improvements being made across the board in both powertrain and non-powertrain areas. Applied technologies will include some of the ideas developed in Ford’s Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles activity.
The company estimates that a Ford SUV buyer will, on average, save 6,400 litres of petrol throughout their ownership of the vehicle, translating into savings of more than US$2,400 in fuel costs at present pump prices.
In addition to the fuel economy commitment, Ford has also voluntarily made all its SUVs and the Windstar minivan low-emission vehicles since late 1998. The company made a similar commitment with its F-Series pick-ups (the most widely sold vehicles in the world) from last year. At present, over 2.5 million Ford SUVs and trucks running on North American roads meet the US government’s low emission requirements years ahead of official implementation.
It is interesting that although there are government requirements for US manufacturers to achieve a corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ – the average consumption of the company’s entire model fleet) for their passenger cars since 1975, the requirements for 4WDs and pick-ups are not as stringent. The CAFÉ requirement for cars is 8.8 kms/litre but 4WDs and pick-ups can be 22% worse.
In as far as Ford products in Malaysia are concerned, AMIM Holdings Marketing Manager Steven Tan said that the Ford Ranger is already an extremely fuel-efficient vehicle and complies with the Euro-1 emission control standard. This qualifies it as a ‘Green Engine’ under Malaysian definitions and allows owners to enjoy a 50% reduction in roadtax.
Ford’s increased emphasis on environmental concerns is believed to be partly due to the personal interest of Ford’s new chairman, William Clay Ford Jr, who is a keen environmentalist and wants Ford’s to become a better corporate citizen. And with fuel prices in the US rising, consumers are also getting more ‘sensitive’ about fuel economy issues; Ford’s new 3,450 kg Excursion 4WD – the world’s largest 4WD – does 5.3 kms/litre (15 mpg) obviously does not do any good for the company’s image in the public eye. The Ford chairman has expressed fears that if the manufacturers do not take the initiative to make their products more compatible with the environment, there is a possibility that they may face consumer attacks the same way as what is happening with the cigarette companies.