Earlier in his career, Bill Ford expressed support for environmental issues and developed a rapport with environmental groups. Some of those groups have criticized him for what they consider a change of heart since he became CEO in October 2001. But he denies having any less passion for the environment.
"Prior to me becoming CEO, it was how people defined me," Ford said. "Now, as CEO, I am driving the business. I don't care any less about all that than I did before, but it's just people aren't asking me about it anymore. They are asking me, 'What are you going to deliver this quarter? What are you going to build?' "
More than half of the automaker's r&d budget, which the company does not disclose, is devoted to environmental issues, he said. "If you look at our r&d budget, a heavy portion of it is in fuel cells and hydrogen."
He acknowledged that obtaining a supply of hydrogen that is not derived from petroleum is a challenge, as are the issues of storing hydrogen on board the vehicle and at filling stations.
Fuel cells create electricity without pollution by using hydrogen fuel. But burning petroleum to obtain hydrogen creates pollution.
"There are a lot of issues to solve, but I think that is where this world is headed," he said.
The company is testing a Ford Focus powered by a fuel cell. Ford Motor owns a stake in a major automotive fuel cell research company, Ballard Power Systems Inc. of Burnaby, British Columbia. The company also is testing internal-combustion engines that burn hydrogen.
Ford Motor's primary role is to develop the vehicle technology that assures it will be a customer benefit, Bill Ford said, but the company also could have a coordinating role.
"We may be the convening entity that pulls together the government and fuel providers and says, 'Look, we've got to work on this together,'" he said. "We cannot work on the technology in isolation. If we do that, it's crazy. In terms of relationship and policy making, we've got to have a big outreach effort."
As far as the hybrid engine technology that will be used, Ford said he expects Europe to use diesel-electric hybrids.