DETROIT -Ford Motor Co. has hired a well-known antitrust law firm to challenge claims that it engaged in illegal trade practices by not introducing technology to limit emissions and boost fuel efficiency.
The move is part of a civil suit between Ford and Robert Lane, publisher of the Internet newsletter blueovalnews.com.
Bringing in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson L.L.P. does not mean Ford believes the allegations have merit, said Ford spokesman Jim Cain.
The antitrust allegations are part of a counterclaim in Lane's answer to Ford's original complaint, which is aimed at shutting down Lane's newsletter.
Lane alleges that between 1984 and 1997, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler Corp. had a gentleman's agreement to limit the introduction of technology that would improve fuel economy and cut emissions.
Because Lane owns two F-150 pickups and a Mustang that were built between 1984 and 1997, he says in the suit that he has been forced to pay higher fuel costs than he otherwise would have.
Lane's attorney, Mark Pickrell of Nashville, Tenn., said clues to Ford's behavior are contained in two boxes of internal Ford documents that Lane says were mailed to him over the past 18 months.
Private parties can, under certain circumstances, file antitrust claims against corporations, but Ford says Lane does not have standing to file such a claim.
Ford has asked the U.S. District Court in Detroit to toss out Lane's counterclaim. Hearings are scheduled for early next year.
Ford has said Lane violated the automaker's trade secrets and copyrights by reproducing secret company documents on blueovalnews.com. Ford won a preliminary injunction in September prohibiting Lane from posting complete documents on his Web site.
But in her order granting the injunction, Federal District Judge Nancy Edmunds allowed Lane to use information gleaned from the documents as any journalist would. Ford has appealed that part of the decision.