Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Warming Wednesdays: Ford goes light weight

If, like me, you've watched a lot of football on TV lately, you've probably seen this ad for the Ford F-150. There can be no doubt it is a butch ad -- addressed to the brotherhood of working men who get dirty every day and shower after work instead of before, who need to drive a truck as strong and tough as they are, who yearn to show the other guys they deserve to be in the tribe.

Subjected to a heavy dose of this pitch, I found it fascinating to learn that Ford has decided that in order to preserve its F-150 stud vehicle's market share, the truck needs to become more fuel efficient. And that in order to accomplish this feat, the company is going to make new models of the truck 700 pounds lighter by replacing its steel body with aluminum. Only, according to reporter Craig Trudell, the automaker doesn't much want to advertise this innovative break with automotive tradition.

The buzz entering the Detroit auto show that began today was that Ford Motor Co. would deliver one of the event’s most important introductions, an F-150 destined to be the first high-production vehicle with an aluminum body.

While Ford didn’t disappoint, its official presentation was almost absent any mention of the word “aluminum.” In prepared remarks as a series of new F-150s burst through paper walls onto the floor of Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Ford executives used “tough” to describe their newest pickup at least eight times. Raj Nair, the automaker’s product chief, underscored that the new vehicle’s frame is made of steel -- stronger, he said, than the steel the company’s competitors use in their heavy-duty models.

Only after that was the word aluminum uttered, and those in the stands heard it once.

I think what's going on here is representative of how this country will go about coming to grips with climate change. Established institutions -- the automakers, insurers of property, even utilities -- have begun to grasp that their future success is going to depend on adaptation to a changing climate. They aren't going to want talk about this, to engage in the ideological battle over global warming. But the more functional ones will take incremental measures to ensure their own survival. They'll evolve.

These measures probably aren't enough. The changes human societies have set in motion are too vast to be met by the smarter elements in an anarchic market. But all of us need to be flexible enough to look at where we might find allies in the climate crisis in unusual places. This challenge needs everyone's best energies.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Really good background on how auto companies are coming to terms with climate change.
I was so glad to meet you in person yesterday! Sorry I talked your ear off, but it is pretty rare in my life that I can talk with someone who understands what I'm talking about!

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