Not Always to the Swift
Plucking Out Threads Like Penelope

"OK, You SUV's: Out of the Pool!"

As I noted last October, during his campaign to keep his position, our ousted erstwhile Governor Gray Davis proposed a law permitting gas-electric hybrid automobiles to use carpool lanes, even when they carry a single occupant. Now that proposal has been revived in legislation likely headed to the desk of Governor Schwarzenegger, who will likely approve it -- but not if the Ford Motor Company has anything to say about it.

The legislation would permit issuance of permits to hybrid vehicles to use carpool lanes, but would only apply to vehicles that "average 45 mpg or more and meet near-zero-emission standards". Ford's only hybrid vehicle, the Escape, has the misfortune of being an SUV, and manages only 35 miles to the gallon. Chairman Bill Ford is huffy:

In a letter to Schwarzenegger that Ford copied to state lawmakers who have yet to take a final vote, he calls the plan a "Buy Japanese" bill and a "special-interest measure ... intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers."

State Treasurer (and probable future gubernatorial candidate) Phil Angelides responds:

Angelides, who proposed the car-pool lane bill to Pavley at the urging of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said Ford is doing his own reputation a disservice.

"What Bill Ford ought to be focusing on is how Ford can make the most fuel-efficient vehicles and how Ford can beat the Japanese," Angelides said.

"We want to send a signal to the marketplace that the most fuel-efficient, cleanest vehicles are what we want for California's future."

[Today's Sacramento Bee report on the bill's passage, with further posturing by both sides, is available here.]

If you don't mind the irritating registration, you might also consider this L.A. Times opinion piece holding Ford up as a prime exponent of 'Greenwashing'. Excerpt:

Conscious of the symbolism of its innovation, Ford made the Escape Hybrid the centerpiece of a multimillion-dollar environmental ad campaign titled "The Greening of the Blue Oval." Printed on glossy, pullout inserts in Time, National Geographic, Mother Jones and other publications, the ads declare, "Finally, a vehicle that can take you to the very places you're helping to preserve."

Ford certainly could use a touch of green. The company's gas-guzzling lineup — featuring the Explorer (the bestselling SUV), the Excursion (the biggest) and the F-150 ("Built Ford Tough") — has been a source of pride and profit for Ford. But it hasn't been good for the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency recently found that Ford Motor Co. had the worst fleetwide fuel economy — a truer gauge of an automaker's commitment to the environment than whether or not it produces a hybrid — of any major U.S. auto manufacturer for the fifth consecutive year. The Model T got better gas mileage than the average Ford vehicle today.

I, of course, favor this new legislation for the purely selfish reason that I am one of those Prius drivers -- happily averaging 46.6 mpg over the past 18,000 miles or so -- who will benefit by it. Self-interest will out, every time.

I continue to wonder, too, what Ford was thinking in the first place when it made the decision that its initial venture into hybrid technology would be an SUV. (Actually, I don't wonder: They were thinking that an SUV would be a good idea because people like to buy the blasted things.) An SUV with only one occupant has no place in a carpool lane, hybrid or not. Telling yourself that you're a good citizen because your SUV is a hybrid is about the same as convincing yourself that the diet soft drink with your supersized burger tray will keep the obesity beasts at bay. And don't get me started, please, on the combination of SUV's, cell phones and "compact" parking spaces; I might just combust from the strain.

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