Ford's giant green leap

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Sue Cischke of Ford If you think President Obama's job is hard, meet Susan Cischke, the VP of sustainability, environment, and safety for Ford Motor Company. It's her job to turn her company, that gave us the mass-assembled automobile and the CO2 that comes with it, into the green machine of the future.

When you read stories about the apocalyptic effects of global warming, see the latest satellite images of an ice sheet, the size of Rhode Island, nearly break off of Antarctica, or get an email forward full of adorable pictures of koalas begging for water in Australia because their water sources are drying up, you want to hold someone accountable. That person is: all of us. The consumer, government, and industry.

Electric cars are the near future, but we need cheaper batteries and tons of charging stations, so the cars can recharge on the road, before they can be feasible.

"We have to have everybody being a player in this," says Cischke, explaining what's holding up the electric car."This isn't, do we have the vehicles." It's also, do we have the infrastructure and is the product affordable so consumers will buy it.

Ford was the first of the big three American car companies to introduce an electric car and promises a whole family of hybrid, hybrid plug-ins, and electric cars for 2012.

Given the crisis we face, we should all be driving around in zero-emission vehicles. Forget the flying car and living like the Jetsons! We need cars that don't emit C02, now. (Legendary musician Neil Young is on the case--he's committed to building a zero-emission vehicle, and blogging about it.)

Cischke is working on it. She's partnering Ford with major electricity supply companies, like Southern California Edison, to build smart grids and managing Ford's $14 billion investment into sustainability.

"All of this takes money. We're not in a position to fund this infrastructure [needed for e-vehicles] ourselves," she says.

There's also the challenge of choosing the right clean technology that will have staying power. "There's a lot of exciting things happening. This is one of the most exciting times to be in the auto industry, because there is so much potential. The technology is mind blowing."

Luckily San Francisco and Portland, Oregon are making her job somewhat easier by racing to see which city will be the first to have an electrical grid for e-vehicles. So, instead of who killed the electric car?, according to Cischke, it's alive and well.

"Unless we can drive the cost down, this is going to be a niche solution," she says. As she's working and pushing to combine the most affordable clean technology inside lighter vehicles, Ford already does provide some green alternatives. The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid gets 41 miles per gallon, and Ford's new EcoBoost technology will be used on half a million Ford, Lincoln,and Mercury vehicles over the next five years, increasing fuel efficiency by 20 percent and lowering CO2 emissions by 15 percent. (Now the real genius would be finding a way of turning cars, already on the road, into zero-emitters, but we'll leave that up to Neil Young.)

Those may seem like small steps, but behind the scenes it sounds like Ford is doing all it can to prepare car drivers for a giant leap. As the new saying goes, if we can put a man on the moon, we can live off of clean energy and achieve energy independence.
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