DETROIT - Ford Motor Co.'s investment in cleaner vehicles will not pay off for at least 10 years, but the company has to spend today because global warming threatens the planet, says CEO Jac Nasser.
The day is coming when consumers will clamor for environmentally benign products, he said in an interview with Automotive News last week.
In contrast to earlier industry positions, Ford Motor Co. accepts that the industry has a role in global warming. Further, Ford expects environmental leadership to be a key competitive battlefield, much like safety during the last decade.
'Historically, the industry never saw this as a competitive area,' Nasser said of environmental leadership. 'It is a competitive advantage because we fundamentally believe that is where the market will be in 10 to 15 years. You need to get the technology base established now.'
Nasser was interviewed for Automotive News' annual Talk from the Top series. A transcript of the interview will appear in a future issue of the paper and on automo
William Clay Ford Jr., Ford chairman and a lifelong environmentalist, has led the company to accept global warming. He is trying to forge a business strategy that reflects environmental goals.
Ford Motor Co. had been a member of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry-dominated group that for years challenged the theory that vehicle emissions contribute to global warming. The company left the group in December 1999.
Nasser said he and other Ford managers accept the notion that human activities are warming the globe, and consequently, threatening the planet.
'We accept the premise,' Nasser said, adding, 'Whether you accept it or not is irrelevant. You can't wait to practically prove whether it is right or wrong.'
Nasser has long argued that new technologies must yield high-volume, affordable applications. Customers will expect environmentally sound vehicles but will not be willing to pay more, he said.
Ford is betting on a range of technologies today, unsure which will pay off tomorrow.
'We have placed our bets on electric, on fuel cells and on hybrid vehicles. You have to be present in all of those,' Nasser said.
But there remain 'tremendous efficiencies' to be discovered in the internal combustion engine, he said. 'It doesn't necessarily have to be gasoline fueled or even diesel fueled,' Nasser said. 'We could be talking about hydrogen or something else.'
Nearer term, Ford will introduce a number of energy-efficient powertrain improvements. These include a three-valve cylinder head, variable valve timing, variable displacement engines and continuously variable transmissions.