GM Claims Environmental Crown for Itself

GM Claims Environmental Crown for Itself

a href="">General Motors Corp.'s vice chairman said last week he was annoyed by Ford Motor Co.'s "green thumb" reputation, saying GM has done more for the environment than its rival.

Harry Pearce criticized as misleading Ford's announcement last week it would improve fuel economy in its sport utility vehicles by 25% within five years.

Pearce said the United States would save 38 million gallons of fuel a year if every owner of a Ford light truck switched to a comparable GM truck.

"What annoys me is the perception that seems to come from that press conference that somehow or other Ford has now established itself as an environmental leader when no one seems to be focusing on who the leader is today based upon the products on the road," he told reporters at the No. 1 automaker's truck product center near Detroit.

"GM leads Ford today in truck fuel economy, both as an average and model by model basis including SUVs, which were the substance of Ford's announcement," Pearce added. "General Motors will still be the leader in five years or for that matter 15 years or 20 years, end of story."

He said GM leads Ford on SUV fuel economy by 6%, and by 4% for all light trucks, which includes SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans. Yet, he complained, Ford has been lauded by many for its environmental leadership.

"That really annoys me," Pearce said. "Do you get that credibility by making promises about the future or do you get it by delivering products today?"

Ford officials congratulated GM for joining them in promising to offer consumers more fuel-efficient trucks.

"Last week, we told everybody where we are and where we intend to go and we were applauded for it," Ford Vice President Jason Vines said. "We didn't use any gimmicks or any tricks. We did it for one reason: our customers want it.

"Obviously, GM is coming to the same conclusion and that's great for customers," he added.

Ford Chairman Jac Nasser made his company's announcement last Thursday in Washington, where Congress is considering regulations to raise the fleet average fuel economy of light trucks to 27.5 miles per gallon, the mark required for cars. The current truck requirement is 20.7 mpg, largely unchanged over the last several years.

Pearce would not say by how much GM would improve its truck or SUV fuel efficiency other than to say it would maintain its lead. He also called the federal fuel efficiency standards a "flawed regulatory policy" and said customer desires should dictate at what pace the automakers should improve.

Some environmentalists welcomed GM's commitment for the future, but said said Ford has earned its reputation by delivering on promises like having its light trucks meet federal low-emission standards.

"In contrast to that, General Motors has promised little and delivered less," said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program.

Regardless of arguments about which automaker has a better environmental scorecard, Becker said they all need to improve.

In another move to improve its truck fuel economy, GM said it will introduce a full-size pickup with hybrid electric propulsion beginning in 2004. It will offer a 15-percent boost in fuel efficiency without compromising performance.

Pearce declined to say at what volume or price the vehicle will sell.

DaimlerChrysler AG's American unit last year showed a hybrid-powered Dodge Durango SUV, with 20-percent improved fuel efficiency, that it said could quickly be moved into production if Congress approved incentives for hybrid vehicles.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. began selling the Insight hybrid-powered two-seat car late last year, while Toyota Motor Corp. will soon begin selling its Prius hybrid sedan this month.

Pearce said GM will rely on such new technologies, as well as using lighter-weight materials and more aerodynamic designs to improve its vehicles' fuel efficiency.

He also said GM's Allison transmission division will deliver in October to a U.S. city he would not name the first hybrid-powered transit bus it developed. The vehicle offers 50% improved fuel economy, as well as significantly reduced emissions.