DETROIT - Detroit automakers, who reap a big chunk of their profits from gas-guzzling SUVs, came under fire again on Wednesday with the launch of a new advertising campaign attacking them for failing to build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.
The television ad, which has the glossy look of a traditional car commercial, depicts an apparent new model SUV parked in a desert with its outline barely visible under a billowing satin sheet.
"It is the first car built for the road and the world around it," an announcer says. "It can take America to work in the morning without sending it to war in the afternoon," he adds, saying the vehicle's low fuel consumption can help break the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
As the sheet is pulled off the dream car it vanishes, however, and the chorus from the Talking Heads tune "Once in a Lifetime" rises in the background. "The only problem is Detroit won't build it," the announcer says.
One of the sponsors of the 30-second ad was the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group. The other is the Detroit Project, a Hollywood group led by syndicated columnist and author Arianna Huffington, who helped sponsor another recent TV ad pitching alleged links between Mideast oil profits and terrorism.
Apart from the war in Iraq, the new ad came against the backdrop of last week's report from the Environmental Protection Agency which said U.S. fuel economy reached a 22-year low in 2002. And a benchmark annual survey of vehicle quality, released on Tuesday by J.D. Power and Associates, showed that poor gas mileage was one of the top complaints among owners of 2003 model cars and trucks.
Jason Vines, who heads a group called SUV Owners of America, dismissed the new ad as the work of "a small, but well-funded group of anti-SUV activists."
And since automakers from Europe and Japan also produce lucrative but gas-thirsty SUVs, the United Auto Workers union said it was unfair to single out Detroit for criticism.
In a statement, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the 40-mile-per-gallon (5.88 liters per 100 km) standard demanded by the Detroit Project was "not feasible on a fleet-wide basis, and it would threaten good-paying auto industry jobs in communities all over the United States."