Average Joes Are Now Going Green

Five years ago Bill Ford said selling a green agenda was an uphill fight. Now, says the Ford Motor chairman, it's catching on inside his company and worldwide. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Keith Naughton. Excerpts:

FORD: Well, it is changing. And not because we're abandoning the truck market. In fact, we're vigorously defending there. But we're also pushing hard into new segments, recognizing a shift in the marketplace. We just didn't anticipate the speed with which it would happen. If you took a snapshot of our product lineup a year ago, it certainly wouldn't look like that two years from now.

Without tipping our future product plans, it will be more fuel-efficient, and there will be a somewhat smaller shift in our product emphasis.

It's interesting. The one thing I feel about hybrids is that one size doesn't fit all. It's a very good technology, but what we didn't anticipate, frankly, was the emergence of biofuels [like ethanol], which in some applications make more sense. The one frustration I really had on this whole hybrid announcement--the thing that got lost--is that the new plan is actually better for the environment, for fuel economy, for CO2 than our hybrid-only plan.

In the past year there's been tremendous progress made on ethanol, both in terms of infrastructure and also availability. And a commitment to even better infrastructure and better availability both by the government--federal and state--and by the fuel industry. Not always the big players, but they're getting involved, too. You've seen even the Wal-Marts of the world now getting involved. I shouldn't say even the Wal-Marts of the world, because I think it's quite a leadership position they're taking.

You know, it will grow. Clearly it will grow. We are committing to more hybrids, and we are expanding our hybrid lineup. But I think when we looked at the hybrid market 18 months ago, we didn't see anything else out there that was going to be really viable. And I think this whole notion of biofuels has really come on strong. Whether it's biodiesel, which is getting more play in places like Europe, or it's ethanol here. There could be other biofuels, too. Some are better for extended range. Some are better for CO2. I'm not an expert yet in biofuels, in terms of the trade-offs that each one provides. I do know that ethanol is certainly the one getting the most focus. So that focus around biofuels came upon us rather quickly. We were also capable from a hardware standpoint of providing biofuel availability in our vehicles. But the question was also the infrastructure and the availability.

No. Absolutely not. In fact, this whole Greener Miles [a Ford initiative to produce cleaner cars] thing is something I'm very pleased with and has tremendous traction within the company. Where I felt society was going then, society is now clamoring for this approach.

Yeah. And it's not just a U.S. elite-based kind of thing now. In fact, you can't get less elitist than ethanol, because it gets right to the heart of the American farmer. It's touching the average American now.