Bill Ford Prods For Energy Policy: Do I Hear Gas Tax?

DEARBORN,MI—Today, Ford showed some of the wares it will unveil next month at the North American International Auto Show. The details are embargoed until January. But I can say a few things, and the remarks of executives were all on the record.

First, I asked chairman Bill Ford (who is on Larry King Live tonight)if the low gas prices ($1.60 in Michigan) concern him given the investments the company is making in fuel economy.

“There is always that tension. As part of an energy policy going forward some thought has to be given to that [the low oil prices and the big investments being made to cope with toughening fuel economy standards]. If the desire is for greater fuel efficiency in this country, it’s got to be in the customer’s pocket-book interest to buy the vehicle. Whether it’s tax incentives for the vehicles, or a gas tax, or some kind of mechanism to align customer pocketbook decisions with society’s goals. I think that has to happen.”

CEO Alan Mulally said Ford is strategizing around oil being between $80-$120 a barrel, but said that was a price that would develop in step with a broader economic recovery. In other words, if the economy turns North in 2010, Ford is figuring oil prices to be in that price band for most of 2010-2012.

It could be a tough launch year, then, for the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. Despite having first-class mid-cycle upgrades and design tweaks, demand for hybrids is sinking along with gas prices. Look for Ford to make advertising hay anyway out of the fact that the Fusison Hybrid beats the Camry hybrid in fuel economy by five or six miles to the gallon.

Meantime, get ready for the attempted recharge of the Taurus brand. It is no secret that Ford will show a redesigned Taurus at next month’s show. No pictures or tech specs until January. But this car is terrific looking. Where the current Taurus suffers from having been designed like an appliance, the new Taurus is more akin to the European Ford Mondeo. The big question on everyone’s mind at Ford is whether people in sufficient numbers will banish the notion of the old rental-car Taurus from their minds and plunk down hard cash for a Taurus that is finally as good or better looking, inside and out, than any other full-size sedan on the market.

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