WASHINGTON – Ford Motor Co. (F) Chairman and CEO Bill Ford urged Congress Tuesday to offer a package of tax incentives to make the nation less dependent on foreign oil and to drive innovation in the struggling domestic auto industry.
Ford, during a speech in Washington, urged Congress to "dramatically increase" tax credits for research and development of alternative vehicles and consider tax incentives to help American manufacturers modernize their plants.
He also urged investments in training programs for American workers, the encouraging of consumers to buy fuel-saving vehicles and partnerships to build an infrastructure of gasoline stations offering ethanol.
"Now, more than ever, I believe we must take action," Ford said. "If we put our heads together and keep in mind our shared interest in America's future, I'm confident that we can innovate our way toward the right solutions."
Ford was scheduled to meet with White House officials later Tuesday.
Ford and other American automakers have been hit hard by increased competition from Asia, steep health care expenses and high costs for raw materials.
In September, Bill Ford urged President Bush to convene an energy summit with automakers, suppliers, energy companies, consumers and the government "to discuss our nation's energy security and our role in helping find a solution."
Ford, the great-grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford, said the incentives could build upon those included in the energy bill signed into law this year. The measure offered up to $3,600 in tax credits for consumers who buy hybrid vehicles and encouraged the use of ethanol.
Ford would need to show that the incentives are not corporate welfare and would help the nation's fleet of vehicles achieve higher fuel economy, said David Friedman, research director of the clean vehicles program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"U.S. taxpayers can't afford to prop up companies that have basically done poor planning, but we can afford to do it if we get something out it," Friedman said.
"(Taxpayers) need to be guaranteed that they're going to get something out of this in terms of higher fuel economy, not just more hybrids on the road."
Ford has launched a public campaign to describe its plans to produce 250,000 hybrids a year by 2010, 10 times the number it produces now. It currently has two hybrid sport utility vehicles on the market.
It has also announced plans to produce 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006, including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.
The automaker reported a third-quarter loss of $284 million last month, and Ford said he will complete a restructuring plan in December and announce "significant" U.S. plant closings in January and layoffs affecting salaried workers and hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers.
A day after rival General Motors Corp. (GM) said it would eliminate 30,000 jobs and close all or part of 12 facilities, Ford declined to provide details on his company's restructuring plan.
"Restructuring alone won't bring success. It's something we have to do. We will address it. We have plans in place to do it," Ford said. "But frankly, that's not something the customer much cares about. The customer wants the latest and greatest technology. The customer wants leadership in technologies that are going to make their lives better."