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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Ford Boycott

Air Date: Week of August 6, 2004

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If you happened to page through the New York Times lately, you might have noticed a full-page ad asking consumers to boycott Ford vehicles. Environmental groups led by the Bluewater Network placed the ad in response to what they see as Ford’s lax efforts to better its fuel economy. Host Steve Curwood talks with Bluewater’s director Russell Long about the extent of the ad campaign’s success.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Joining me now is a man who has helped craft and push through new air pollution laws in California, Russell Long. He’s director of the Bluewater Network in San Francisco, and his group has been heavily involved in efforts to reduce emissions from ships and increase fuel efficiency in the auto industry.

His latest project takes aim at the Ford Motor Company in the form of a full-page ad that appeared recently in the New York Times. The ad lists what the group considers Ford’s failings towards the environment, and goes so far as to ask people to boycott Ford vehicles. Russell Long, welcome.

LONG: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Could you describe this ad for us as it appears in the New York Times?

LONG: Well, the first ad we ran depicts Bill Ford with an extended Pinocchio nose. And it goes on to mention that Mr. Ford has made various pledges to protect the environment, including the pledge on increasing fuel mileage 25 percent, and in year 2003 he reneged on that. And we subsequently ran another ad recently which actually shows the fuel mileage of the top three auto manufacturers in the U.S. – Ford, GM, and Toyota – and Ford is at the bottom and getting worse. And it’s been continuing to get worse for the past four years, ever since Bill Ford took over the company. And at the very bottom of the ad, of course, we have coupons to cut out that readers can send to us. We forward those to Mr. Ford, that state, “I pledge not to buy a Ford until you clean up your cars and you go to Congress and ask them to voluntarily increase the nation’s auto mileage efficiency. Until then the planet can’t afford a Ford.”

CURWOOD: Now, what kind of response did you get from Bill Ford, the CEO of Ford Motor? It seems that there’s a fine line between a group’s right to speak and questions of slandering or defaming him or holding him up to public ridicule. What kind of legal action has there been in response to these ads?

LONG: Well, they sent us a cease-and-desist letter from their attorneys, and we had to meet with our own attorneys to find out whether or not we’d violated the law. And our attorneys said no. Other than one extremely minor copy edit in our ad, they thought we were just fine. And so we let Ford know that we were happy to make the minor copy edit change. But, you know, unfortunately I think this is not the way you do business today. I think Ford has invested too heavily in attorneys rather than going out there and just getting the engineers to do the job right in the first place.

CURWOOD: I notice there’s no Pinocchio depiction in your recent ad – how much is that a function of the request, the letter from Ford, asking for a cease-and-desist in using that kind of imagery?

LONG: Well, it has more to do with the New York Times, unfortunately. They received some phone calls, apparently, from Bill Ford’s office, and there was a great deal of gnashing of teeth. And the New York Times decided they didn’t want to run that Pinocchio ad anymore. They’re okay with caricatures but they felt this one went a little farther than they liked. As far as the new ad, you know, we were not going to continue to run the Pinocchio nose anyway. I think the important thing here is the American public needs to understand this company is not a leader, they are a follower. And they are the worst of the bunch when it comes to fuel mileage.

CURWOOD: We have tried to be in touch with the Ford Motor Company about your advertisements, and they have declined to sit for an interview with us. But we should point out in Ford’s favor that they have taken some green initiatives. And they are building a hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape, which on its own gets pretty good mileage. Shouldn’t Ford get some kind of credit for taking these efforts to move forward?

LONG: I think they’ve done a great job with that vehicle – I think it will be getting 30, 35 miles a gallon, and that’s a big improvement over what we see with typical SUVs. But the problem is it’s not going to do anything on a large scale to decrease their emissions or to increase their fuel mileage averages. And until we see that hybrid technology in every single vehicle which they are building, it’s really not going to do a tremendous amount.

CURWOOD: What kind of response have you had to these ads? In particular, how many customers do you think your efforts are turning away from Ford?

LONG: Well, we’ve been receiving hundreds of letters from around the county, people signing these pledge coupons saying they’re not going to buy Ford vehicles. And it’s important that Ford no longer be perceived as having an environmental halo. In fact, that halo rightfully belongs to Toyota and Honda, who really have done tremendous things for the environment over the past ten years. And I think Ford is headed in the right direction with this one hybrid they have. But until they have a fleet of them, unfortunately we’re not going to be where we need to go.

CURWOOD: Russell Long is director of the Bluewater Network in San Francisco. Mr. Long, thanks for taking this time with me today.

LONG: My pleasure.

 

Links

Bluewater Network Ford Newspaper Ad [PDF]

 

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