SAN FRANCISCO - Environmental protesters gathered in San Francisco on Saturday for the first of several nationwide protests aimed at pressuring Ford Motor Co. to boost the fuel economy of its cars and trucks.
The groups say they are taking aim at Ford, the world's second biggest automaker, because they believe it is not living up to its claim that it is committed to continuous improvement in fuel economy to meet customer and societal needs.
"Ford has tried to make itself out as an environmental leader, and unfortunately there is a big gap between its rhetoric and its actions," said Jason Mark, a spokesman for San Francisco-based Global Exchange.
The protest follows Ford's announcement in April that it would miss a 2005 deadline to improve the fuel economy of its sport utility vehicles by 25 percent.
A Ford representative was not available for comment on the protest, which attracted around 100 people.
In April, Ford said it would delay its SUV fuel economy goal set three years ago in favor of reaching a 20 percent to 30 percent improvement in average fuel economy across all the vehicles it sells in North America by the end of the decade.
The protest was also part of an effort by some activists who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to take their "No blood for oil" message to a new level to help break what they call America's "oil addiction."
The demonstration is planned to be followed next weekend by protests in up to 20 U.S. cities, including Houston, Chicago and New York, and to culminate in protests from June 14 through June 16 at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, when the company will observe its 100th anniversary.
Two protest sponsors, Global Exchange and Rainforest Action Network, say they believe the technology exists for Ford to achieve average fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon by 2010 -- far above today's standards.
The groups also want Ford to speed the transition to hydrogen fuel cells, which some proponents say could become competitive with conventional cars in decades to come.
Existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards required for passenger cars stand at about 28 miles per gallon (mpg). The standards were first adopted in 1975 by Congress after the Arab oil embargo. CAFE requirements for popular SUVs and light trucks stand at about 21 mpg.
Environmental groups have long-favored higher mileage requirements for SUVs, but the auto industry has fought any substantial changes. SUVs and pick-up trucks account for about half all vehicles sold each year in the United States.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd