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Published: Thursday, 8/15/2002

Different tune for carmakers

The American auto industry isn't spawning happy music anymore about merry Oldsmobiles or daddies who take their daughters' T-birds away, and that bothers Ford Motor Company's CEO and chairman, William Clay Ford, Jr. Instead of Californians writing music about cars, he says, they're writing regulations. That's not good for business.

Well what does he expect? The industry's powerful lobby has blocked improvements introduced in Congress to improve miles-per-gallon performance, and DaimlerChrysler and General Motors are suing to undo California's law demanding that carmakers produce electric vehicles.

So the industry can hardly blame thrifty Americans for preferring vehicles made by others that guarantee a minimum of 30 mpg, and sometimes much more.

Mr. Ford, perhaps more than other CEOs in his business, is aware that consumers aren't turned on by some American cars. They believe firms like Ford and GM are fighting to maintain levels of pollution, unwilling to set better fuel-efficiency standards, and buying members of Congress to wreak their will.

They also drag behind on environment-friendly innovation. For example, though Toyota and Honda are already selling hybrid cars that use both gasoline and electricity, and hence run cleaner and many miles longer on a tank of gasoline, Ford's hybrid won't be ready until the end of next year.

Mr. Ford, speaking at a management conference for the industry in Traverse City, Mich., urged less industry contentiousness between his fellow carmakers and environmental regulators, especially those in California. Legislators there, after all, have actually enacted environmentally protective laws.

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