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Dinner with Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally

On Sunday evening, I had the good fortune to have dinner with Ford’s CEO, Alan Mulally and a number of Ford executives. I was the lone wolf mad dog blogger at the table, surrounded by conventional journalists from America and the UK. Needless to say, I was nervous as could be, not having previously met a single person in the room. I compensated by throwing down three pineapple vodka infusions – the house specialty at the Capital Grille in Troy, Michigan (and for good reason, I must say) – in rapid succession while twittering and waiting at the bar.

All in my best attempt to summon inspiration from the late great Hunter S. Thompson.

As the outsider not knowing a soul, I felt a bit uneasy as I eased into my spot at the corner of the table. I was only guy not wearing a tie (although I did have a proper navy jacket). My non-corporate arrangement of facial hair du jour couldn’t have helped.

The evening’s format provided a non-stop question-and-answer period that circled the table. I often choke in situations like this on the first pitch, and I proceeded to swing like Goofy – twisting myself into a pretzel – the first time I stepped to the plate. I likely invoked the ire of half the journalists in the room. Lets blame it on spontaneous pineapple-infused combustion.

Alan immediately put me at ease, and from that moment on, I truly began to understand the source of the fantastic turnaround at Ford. The man emanates a remarkable positive energy.

Feeling bolstered by Alan’s reassurance, I swung for the fence, questioning Ford group vice president Derrick Kuzak regarding a statement he made back in December, 2007. At that time, I recalled Derek saying something along the line of, “I didn’t understand why the Europeans loved diesel engines so much, until after I had spent a number of years in Europe.”

I asked Derek if the acclaimed Ford Fiesta would be available with a fuel-efficient diesel engine when it reached our shores.

Now here’s where I’m kicking myself for not summoning the spirit of Jimmy Olsen (rather than HST). I didn’t run a voice recorder, much less take written notes. (My cousin Sammy the journalism professor would give me a failing grade for the evening for not being properly prepared. Oh well.)

Regardless of that, the answer was in short: not at first, if at all.

Ford is committed to their investment in their EcoBoost direct injection gasoline technology, which will be available first in larger displacement engines. The initial goal is to deliver V8-like power in a V6.

EcoBoost will eventually move into the inline four cylinder engines.

Derek made the usual suspect (and perhaps hollow) arguments against small displacement clean diesel adoption in America: engine expense and consumer resistance in the face of the price differential between diesel fuel and gasoline.

Here’s what I didn’t get to say at dinner, but I need to share now …

Inadequate diesel fuel production is a public policy issue that no one seems to be willing to face. Conventional media doesn’t touch the topic. Our elected officials make no attempt to remedy the situation. And yet, this is one of the most crucial steps we must take to turn things around in this country. Energy independence will never come about until we address the issue of the method of production used in our refineries.

We’ve nationalized our banks. We’ve nationalized GM and Chrysler.

If we had nationalized the oil companies first, to do what’s best for this country, crisis would not have spread. Not that I’m suggesting nationalizing the oil companies … just that they put this country first, before their profits.

Never mind the Monday morning quarterbacking (even though it’s Wednesday afternoon).

It’s time we get tough on the companies that are running our refineries.

Small displacement diesel engine costs are currently offset by federal subsidies. Buy a Volkswagen Jetta TDI, and you can expect to get back $1300 from Uncle Sam. The same can and will work for Ford once the issue of fuel costs are addressed at a federal level and internal corporate barriers are removed.

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5 comments ↓

#1 Randy on 01.15.09 at 12:59 pm

It’s been 24 hours, and there are NO comments yet?! Sheesh: that was a COUP (no, not a coupe: that’s different). You are da man, Dan, showing that bloggers are really coming up in the world. It’s a testament to your skill that you were invited. Now: don’t EVER go to another meeting without a pad and a voice recorder again!

#2 F.Robert Falbo on 01.18.09 at 8:08 pm

It’s pretty obvious what’s happening to Diesel fuel in this Country. Oil Companies saw that they had a captive market in the trucking industry and jacked the price up while spreading the rumor that the increase was due to higher road taxes on diesel than on gas. I drove a turbodiesel for 13 years in the 80s & 90s, and diesel was on par or below gas prices. Now they use the excuse of having to divert to heating oil, though in warm Winters, they never reduced the prices any when it caused a glut of heating oil. That’s why Diesel will never catch on for passenger cars – because Big Oil will see to it diesel doesn’t. True all-electric cars are the only way we will break the strangle hold of Big Oil.

#3 mpg-o-editor on 01.18.09 at 8:28 pm

@Randy – thanks for the kind words. 🙂 I always have something to scribble on in meetings, but not at dinner.

@Robert – Electric is a big chunk of the answer, but it’s only one of the three key elements in our renewal (through renewable resources). Natural gas and biofuels – derived in large scale from algae – will power long-distance vehicles in the very near future.

#4 Brian on 02.18.09 at 3:01 pm

It’s not popular with politicians, nor with most consumers, but the answer to driving (excuse the pun) the consumer and the auto industry to more fuel-efficient vehicles is to tax fuel and drive the price up.

Look at Europe, Canada, Asia, and the rest of the world – with rare exception, nobody has cheap fuel like the good old U.S.A. Until the temporary aberration (soon to be repeated) of $4.00 per gallon gasoline during 2008, cheap fuel made the buying public relatively oblivious to the cost of fuel and, as a result, sales of trucks, SUVs and other large vehicles ballooned.

Moving to a higher fuel cost will cause many (if not most) consumers to look for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This demand will cause the various automobile manufacturers to produce smaller cars and trucks in order to meet the demand. Over time, the aggregate impact of consumers moving to smaller vehicles will allow America to reduce its reliance upon imported oil and become more self-sufficient – never mind the environmental benefits that go along with the reduced fuel consumption.

Simple supply and demand economics – eliminating the need to regulate automakers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, no CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy), etc.

Sure, nobody wants higher taxes, but in the long run everybody wins.

#5 Dapriz on 03.21.09 at 2:46 pm

I agree with the last post about cheap fuel driving people away from smaller vehicles. Europe and other places have had expensive gasoline for years, so they have the incentive for more fuel efficient vehicles. The only thing that will drive people towards more fuel efficient vehicles is a long term big increase in fuel prices sad to say. If that happens, I’m ready with my brand new Toyota Yaris.

I know I’ve said this before about diesel cars in the U.S. but I’ll say it again; GM’s disasterous diesel cars of the 1980s turned Americans off of diesel, and we still haven’t moved on from that. Ford did try to market a diesel powered Lincoln in the U.S., with a BMW built engine, and even promoted it as such, but it wasn’t successful.

It’s unfortunate. Hopefully the U.S. will get over GM’s diesel debacle and give the platform another chance.

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