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  Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability: Nov. 13
Ford: Zero-emission cars a green goal

Twenty years ago William Clay "Bill" Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, raised quite a few eyebrows for insisting that the automotive industry must learn to live in harmony with the environment.
William Clay Ford says his great-grandfather inspired him to consider sustainability as a factor in automotive design. (Photo by Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co.)

"Everybody laughed at me, and I was frequently ridiculed by our competitors for being a green zealot," says Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. "But it was something that I absolutely believed in coming out of college in 1979 and I believe it even more strongly today."

Ford is no longer a lone voice in the wilderness. Today, automakers are tripping over each other in a mad rush to convince consumers they're "greener" than their competitors.

Concerns about climate change and energy independence have thrust the issue of sustainable transportation to the forefront.

Ford will discuss "The Road to Sustainable Transportation" at 5 p.m. Nov. 13 for the annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability. The talk will take place in Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St., and is free and open to the public.

The Wege lecture is sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Systems, which is based at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Past speakers have included former vice president and recent Nobel Prize winner Al Gore.

Ford says the road to sustainable transportation will lead, ultimately, to zero-emission vehicles. In the long run, hydrogen-powered cars may be the answer.

But hydrogen technology — both the production of hydrogen fuel and the development of fuel cells to power cars — still is fairly young. While hydrogen technology matures, other advances will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption, Ford says.

And Ford Motor Co. strategically is positioned to play a leadership role in the transformation of personal transportation, he says.

"It's clear, long-term, that we do see hydrogen as sort of the Holy Grail," Ford says. "But there are interim steps we're going to have to take to get us there, and we're working on all of those steps.

"I love where we are positioned in terms of our technology, because most of the car companies can't afford, or have not done the work, on the whole array of technologies out there. We have — whether it's hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, internal-combustion hydrogen, ethanol, methanol or compressed natural gas. We are working on all of these."

Ford says he believes his great-grandfather would be thrilled that the company he started is pioneering new vehicle technologies and thinking outside-the-box.

"He would love the way we're breaking out. Heck, he had an electric car back then, with his friend Thomas Edison.

"And — though they didn't call it environmentalism back then — he believed in reusing everything," Ford says. "Shipping crates were turned into running boards for cars, and what was left over from the crates was compressed into charcoal. He believed in the concept of no waste."

What his great-grandfather wouldn't like is the fact that Americans are choosing not to buy American-made cars, Ford says.

"The quality gap has been closed. Yet when I drive around Ann Arbor and when I drive around the University, I see nothing but new cars whose tax base isn't reflected here in Michigan," says Ford, an Ann Arbor resident.

"If that's the case, people shouldn't be surprised that the state and the universities are losing funding, if people are not supporting the tax-paying base of Michigan."

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