It looks like Ford is finally entering the real world, one where global warming and, even sooner, peak oil, will drive consumer decisions about automotive purchases. Indeed, as soon as the global economic recession is over, oil prices will quickly rise back above $100 a barrel. They will almost certainly reach record levels in the next decade. For gasoline to be significantly below $5 a gallon by 2020 would take a miracle “” or rather 6 miracles see “Science/IEA: World oil crunch looming? Not if we can find six Saudi Arabias!” and “IEA says oil will peak in 2020“). See also “Merrill: Non-OPEC production has likely peaked, oil output could fall by 30 million bpd by 2015“).
The future belongs to car companies that make profitable, well-designed fuel-efficient cars, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and pure electrics, which seems to be a core element of Ford’s trategic plan for survival and revival (see “Whose bailout plan is best: Ford drops hydrogen while GM remains confused about ethanol“). Today’s news is evidence that they are putting their plan into motion:
The Ford Motor Company is investing $550 million to turn a factory that was dedicated to making large and fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles into a modern and scalable small-car plant that will eventually produce an all-electric version of the Focus.
The Michigan Assembly Plant, known as one of the world’s most profitable manufacturing sites during the S.U.V. boom of the 1990s, was once the hub for the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The plant is expected to begin building the new Ford Focus next year, followed by production of the all-electric Focus in 2011.
The electric Focus will be Ford’s first all-electric passenger car for the mass market. In addition to the electric Focus, the company plans to sell an electric version of its Transit Connect commercial vehicle in 2010.
Ford has previously promised that they will deliver four new electric vehicles to the American market by 2012.
“The transformation of the Michigan Assembly Plant embodies the larger transformation under way at Ford,” said Ford’s president and chief executive, Alan Mulally, in a statement. “This is about investing in modern, efficient and flexible American manufacturing. It is about fuel economy and the electrification of vehicles.”
The electric Focus is part of a larger strategy announced by Ford in January to develop electric vehicles for North America quickly using its global reach and capability to keep the cars affordable.
In addition to the Michigan Assembly Plant, Ford is retooling two other factories to build new cars in the face of global market changes. The company’s Cuautitl¡n Assembly plant in Mexico is slated to begin building the new Fiesta subcompact early next year, and its Louisville Assembly plant in Kentucky is also expected to begin producing small vehicles based on the Focus platform beginning in 2011.
“We’re changing from a company focused mainly on trucks and SUVs to a company with a balanced product lineup that includes even more high-quality, fuel-efficient small cars, hybrids and all-electric vehicles,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas. “As customers move to more fuel-efficient vehicles, we’ll be there with more of the products they really want.”
If Ford can survive, the economic meltdown, it may ultimately remake itself into the strongest domestic car company.
A group of Nigerians is suing Royal Dutch Shell PLC, alleging the company aided the government in attacking and killing activists who opposed the company’s operations in the Niger Delta.
Shell faces trial May 26 in Manhattan federal court in a lawsuit filed by three alleged victims of attacks and relatives of seven activists killed from 1990 to 1995, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Shell denies any wrongdoing. The company did not encourage or advocate “any act of violence,” according to a statement.
Based on prior trials, the plaintiffs appear to face an uphill battle. An Alabama jury ruled in July that coal producer Drummond Ltd. was not liable for the deaths of union leaders at a company mine in Colombia. And a San Francisco jury in December cleared Chevron Corp. of responsibility for the 1998 deaths, shootings and torture of Nigerian protesters.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) tried to quell an uprising yesterday among some moderate Democrats concerned about his admission that a major global warming and energy bill likely will skip a subcommittee vote and go straight before the full Energy and Commerce Committee.
A handful of Democrats on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee questioned Waxman’s initial statement to reporters yesterday afternoon that time constraints likely will force him to bypass them in favor of a vote before the entire 59-member panel.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today rejected a proposal that would cap funding a new clean-energy bank that could give financing to any technology, up to 20 percent of project costs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed the limit during a markup of a bipartisan bill, S. 949, to create a Clean Energy Deployment Administration within the Energy Department that is authorized to provide financing options for a variety of low-emission energy projects. The bill also proposes reforms and guidelines for a transition to the current DOE loan guarantee program. The amendment failed 5-18.
Sanders said his amendment was needed because the clean energy bank could lead to a situation in which one particular technology could end up with 40 percent or 50 percent of the funds, while others “with less political clout” would end up with less.
Stavros Dimas, the European Union commissioner for the environment, warned on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s goals to cut emissions over the next decade may not be ambitious enough to meet long term targets.
Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the United States would cut emissions by 1.5 percent each year until the end of the next decade.
But Mr. Dimas warned the United States that small annual reductions now would require much larger annual reductions “” as much as 5 percent a year “” after 2020, if Mr. Obama’s long term goal of reducing planet warming gases 80 percent by mid-century is to be reached.
What is climate change doing to the saltiness, or salinity, of our oceans? This is an important question because big shifts in salinity could be a warning that more severe droughts and floods are on their way, or even that global warming is speeding up.
Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten