Cornering Ford at SEJ2006

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First night at the SEJ Conference, and things started off with a small bang as representatives from several major auto manufacturers – all men – took the stage for a panel discussion about alternative fuel vehicles, moderated by Jim Motavalli, Editor of E/The Environmental Magazine. Also speaking was one lone woman – representing the ethanol promotion board.

After they had all spoken, the audience was asked for questions. DeSmogBlog’s Kevin stood up and asked his question of the Ford rep (paraphrased here). “If you say that you’re so concerned about climate change, and acknowledge that it’s happening, and are involved in things like Terrapass and alternative fuels, then why are you still funding think tank groups like the CEI, who have a position that climate change is not happening and is nothing to worry about?” The audience was as appreciative of his question as they had been of a couple of other pointed questions calling the auto companies on their apparent greenwashing.

Remarkably, Ford’s senior representative up on stage didn’t even attempt to answer the question, and instead turned it right over to one of his PR people, seated in the audience. “We completely divorced ourselves from that particular campaign,” she claimed, while members of the audience muttered in obvious disapproval and disbelief. She went on to say that while Ford does fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute – though not that campaign – they do acknowledge that climate change is a reality.

Kevin commented that that was the same answer he had received back when Ford had been revealed as a CEI donor during the time of the ridiculous ads.He said that while he understood that Ford uses CEI as a lobby group, he had offered to provide them with the names of other lobbyists who don’t hold archaic and skeptical views on climate change, and who would be happy to work with Ford. At that point, he was told to sit down and let the next person ask their question.

Needless to say, the feeling in the room was strong that Ford had not responded sufficiently to what was a reasonable and relevant question. It wasn’t the only time this evening, either. While I respect and appreciate the efforts that auto companies are making to move towards alternatives to a gas-dependent cars, I have to say that the SEJ conference kicked off with some first class examples of PR spin from our friends at Ford. Stay tuned for further coverage…

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