- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2000

About a month ago shock waves rolled forth from the Dearborn, Mich., corporate headquarters of Ford Motor Co., following release of materials contained in a "corporate citizenship" report titled "Connecting With Society." In the report, according to a barrage of excited media accounts, Ford abased itself for selling sport-utility vehicles those supposedly irresponsible, petrol-slurping profligates.

That an automaker feels compelled to issue such flapdoodle as a "corporate citizenship" report is startling in and of itself. We live in an era when the jaundiced view that to be in business is inherently suspicious and even vaguely disreputable (hence the need for mewling pronunciamentos of "good citizenship") is part of the collective unconscious, several decades of anti-corporate agit-prop having done its work remarkably well.

The report entertains such topics as whether sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) "pose a safety hazard to other cars, and to their owners" and whether they "use too much fuel and pollute the air," all in the manner of a neurotic on a psychiatrist's couch. Ford has, in other words, wholly accepted the premise that it must apologize for building the kinds of vehicles the public needs and wants as opposed to the scrunched-up, underpowered econo-boxes favored by editorial writers in New York City and various bureaucrats within the federal government.

In a subsequent explanatory letter, a Ford spokesman wrote that "Ford Motor Company is transforming itself for the 21st century. It is questioning everything it does from the perspective of social and environmental impact and trying to improve it. It means the company is pushing hard to set increasingly higher standards of leadership for social responsibility …"


The fact is, Ford should be proud of its class-leading, best-selling SUVs not merely because people obviously like them and are willing to pay good money for them, but because they are, despite the tripe one hears from engineering experts such as Dan Rather and the editorial board of the New York Times, among the safest and most responsible vehicles on the market.

Ford gets around to noting this fact eventually in its report and subsequent statements to the media but does so almost plaintively. It seems ashamed to give itself credit for aggressively acting (e.g., before the government required any such thing) to design features as the "blocker beams" built into the full-size Excursion SUV which prevent smaller passenger cars from getting crunched underneath the big truck or the fact that all 1999 and newer Ford SUVs meet the ultra-strict Low Emissions Vehicle standards set by the federal government, which means they are about as "clean" at the tailpipe as most economy cars and only pollute a fractional amount as compared with the vehicles (all types) of the recent past.

Ford notes (meekly) that it would take 600,000 hybrid electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight to equal the air-quality benefit of Ford's production of low-emissions SUVs. And those hybrids, of course, could not tow, haul or protect their occupants anywhere near as well as an SUV.

These are true facts, as they say in the tabloids, yet most people have no idea because the media, in general, fixate on the supposed "negatives" of SUVS mainly because media types hate SUVs and their personal bias suffuses their reportage.

Here are a few facts Ford points out about SUVs though unfortunately, these facts are not highlighted in the "Connecting With Society" report:

• Though the number of SUVs has increased by 130 percent during the past decade, fatalities due to SUV-car collisions have remained constant. Today, they represent about 3 percent of total fatalities annually.

If you took the media reports at face value, you'd believe SUV fatalities were alarmingly high rather than a small fraction of the overall total.

• Occupant fatality rates for SUVs are 10 percent lower than for cars and people driving SUVs are generally better protected (due in part to the larger size/mass) than are occupants of passenger cars.

Media reports have turned this fact on its head making the "argument" that SUVs are unsafe because when they are involved in accidents with puny econo-cars, the econo-car loses. The way to fix this problem is to make smaller cars bigger not "downsize" SUVs. Want proof? Studies have found that eliminating the heaviest, largest SUVs (models such as the Ford Excursion and Chevy Suburban) would reduce fatalities by less than one-half of 1 percent while eliminating the smallest, lightest passenger cars would reduce fatalities by more than 2.5 percent.

• Over the past 20 years, the number of trucks and SUVs has more than tripled and total vehicle miles traveled increased by 80 percent. And yet, according to data compiled by the federal government and the Highway Loss Data Institute, the risk of being killed in a car accident has declined by 40 percent.

Ford should be proud of its record and its SUVs not kissing the ring of busybodies who will never be placated, no matter how obsequiously Ford prostrates itself before them.

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