DETROIT - The publisher of an Internet newsletter says in a lawsuit that Ford Motor Co. violated federal antitrust laws between 1984 and 1997 by refusing to build vehicles that are as fuel eff icient as they could have been.
A Ford spokesman said the claim is baseless.
The allegation is part of a suit brought by Robert Lane of Dearborn, Mich., the publisher of Blueovalnews.com. Lane's suit is the latest salvo in the legal tussle between Lane and Ford that started in August after Lane began posting secret Ford documents on his Web site.
Ford already won a preliminary injunction against Lane prohibiting him from posting entire Ford documents on the Web site. The antitrust allegations are part of a countersuit Lane filed against Ford.
Before 1984, Ford, General Motors and the former Chrysler Corp. had been prohibited by a federal consent decree from colluding on fuel econ omy and emissions. The suit claims that after 1984, Ford, GM and Chrysler struck a gentleman's agreement to limit the introduction of technological advances that would result in better fuel economy and reduced emissions.
The suit claims Ford executives broke ranks and went public with plans to build more fuel-efficient, less-polluting vehicles at the 1997 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Nashville, Tenn., lawyer Mark Pickrell, who represe nts Lane, said the secret Ford documents in Lane's possession hold clues to Ford's scheme.
Lane's suit also charges Ford with illegally eavesdropping on his Internet site and other electronic communications.
The Lane countersuit is 'a bunch of fabrications without any substance,' said Ford spokesman Jim Cain.
Ford also will appeal a September court opinion denying Ford's motion for so-called prior restraint. The judge said Ford could not stop Lane from using the documents as other journalists do. Lane was prohibited only from violating copyright laws.
But Ford believes all of the documents Lane has were obtained illegally and that Lane should not be able to use the information for any reason, Cain said.