Does Ford Really Know "the Way Ahead"?
Advertising's New Look
A Humble Proposal on the Matter of State-sanctioned Murders

February 25, 2006

Does Ford Really Know
"the Way Ahead"?

By Gar Smith

Ford CEO Willian Clay Ford's current line-up of vehicles get worse mileage than his grand-dad's Model T.
"Can This Man Save the US Auto Industry?" That was the headline on TIME magazine's recent profile of William Clay Ford. The next day, Bill Ford announced plans to lay off one-quarter of his company's US workers. TIME's headline now ranks right up there with New York Daily News' "Dewey Defeats Truman" and I suspect the editor who green-lighted that cover has been grounded and given a serious Time-out.

Bill Ford likes to position himself as a "Green" CEO so perhaps his job-chopping "restructuring" was undertaken for the environmental good. After all, in one masterstroke, he eliminated the equivalent of 30,000 polluting autos from US roads. Unfortunately, the fired workers who own these cars may soon be living in them. If this is what Ford meant by "The Way Forward," these laid-off workers have good cause to feel Way-laid.

Over recent years, Ford's production of autos has tanked. But that's a good thing: Have you seen the fuel consumption of those hulks? The original model T got better mileage. The fact is: we need fewer oil-suckers on the road. Ford recently trotted out a new jingle that celebrates "The Thinking behind the Oval" but it's apparent that Ford -- like the rest of the US auto industry -- is lagging behind the curve.

This could be Detroit's Last-Chance-to-Get-It-Right. Tokyo and Seoul have already figured out that, with cheap oil going the way of the buffalo, the spotted owl, the meadow mouse and polar bears, there are only two options: you can either build one of the last gas-buggies of the Industrial Age or one of the first sustainable vehicles of the 21st Century.

If Ford wants to continue building big vehicles, how about manufacturing hybrid-powered mass-transit buses? And, if Ford wants to build a vehicle with worldwide appeal, maybe it should consider bicycles. Hard as it is to imagine, only 8% of the world's population even owns a car. It's bad enough that the US, with 5% of Earth's population, consumes 25% of the planet's resources. But consider the fact that only 8 percent of the world's people are responsible for nearly 100% of auto fumes that are stoking global warming!

We fight wars to grab the oil needed to power our economy. If our cars, homes and factories were powered by sunbeams, we wouldn't need the Pentagon to "stabilize" the Middle East.

We need a car that gets fewer wars to the gallon.

Bill Ford says he's got a secret plan to build a new kind of car that may contain bio-plastics and will be recyclable. Not good enough. If it still burns oil, pollutes the planet and gets 20 miles to the gallon, it doesn't need to be recycled -- it needs to be composted. Do the folks at Ford really "get" the connection between oil, war and climate change? You have to wonder when the engineers behind Bill's Green grin, were about to follow their gas-gargling Ford Excursion with a larger model dubbed the "Ford Everest." Bill! Pay attention! Global warming is baking the glaciers off Mt Everest!

Stylewise, Ford's designers need to come up with something stylish, sassy and radically different -- the vehicular version of the iMac. It's time to think outside the gearbox. Maybe the best kind of wheel to add to a car is a flywheel -- storing kinetic energy in a whirling wheel makes a lot more sense than sucking oil out of the Niger Delta at $70 a barrel.

And while we're at it, let's get rid of rubber tires (and, hence, the problem of getting rid of rubber tires). We now know how to make airless tires from flexible, high-impact composites. Not only are they oil-free, but you'll never have to worry about under-inflation or a blow-out.

A crew of high school students working in a campus garage can build a car that gets 800 miles-per-gallon. Does Ford have a better idea? Ford does have a better concept. Ford introduced a hybrid "concept car" at the American Auto Show that runs on an 85% blend of ethanol -- a domestic, grow-it-yourself, plant-based renewable fuel. But it remains a concept, not a commitment.

Bill Ford walks the talk but he's not ready to drive the jive. Ford could use existing hybrid-electric engines to boost the company's average fleet fuel efficiency to 55 mpg -- instead of its disgraceful 19.1 mpg overall average. (Heck, Ford once produced a popular all-electric car that was pollution-free and had a range of 80-100 miles.) Ford claims there's "no demand" for cleaner cars and the company won't commit to building cleaner, leaner cars as long as most NASCAR Americans remain fixated on Hemis and SUVs.

But look what happened when Austin, Texas announced it's intent to purchase plug-in hybrids at the US Mayors' Conference -- quicker than you could say "Gentlemen, start your engines," seven other major cities signaled their readiness to make the Great Lane Change to renewables.

There are gobs of options -- including ethanol, biodiesel, vegetable oil, hydrogen and fuel cells -- but the best near-term bet would seem to be plug-in hybrids (PHEV). PHEVs cost less to run and produce vastly reduced emissions. With a car that gets its pep by plugging into the electric grid, you wind up producing 10 times less pollution. Meanwhile, a group of road-wonks at a company called CalCars have juiced up a Toyota Prius to travel 30 miles without burning an iota of oil. With extra batteries on board, these "Priuis-plus" conversions can be plugged into your home wall socket and, voila, you've got a car that gets 100 mpg.

Maybe Ford should give these guys a call.

For more information, see:
• Set America Free
• Plug In America
• Plug-In Austin
• Plug-In Partners

Advertising's New Look

There is a new trend in TV ads that's become annoyingly au courant. It's not a cinematic technique, a catch-phrase, or a new kind of jingle. It's a look. We're not talking about the appearance of the commercial itself. What's new is the expressions appearing on the faces of the characters in the commercial. "Expressions" is the wrong word. There's only one look, and it's appearing in more and more commercials.

It is the look of what you might call "Stupified Befuddlement" and it's everywhere. There are those Terminix ads where a fellow is mixing a morning meal. He's interrupted by the humming sound of swarming termites. He looks up at stares at the viewing audience with bug-eyes, slack-jawed stoopfuddlment. There's a fellow in the wood-fired pizza ad who encounters a blazing fire burning inside his kitchen oven. And there's the fellow at the end of every Aflac commercial who suddenly confronts a crazed duck and responds with The Look.

One TV ad that's getting a lot of airplay this month is the series of commercials from Honda that features a quintet of holiday carolers chirping, "We Wish You a Merry Honda-days." They may show up in an exercise gym filled with yuppies or trespassing inside some cowboy's barn but they are always dressed in thick coats, wool hats and scarves. But no matter where they turn up, the sudden appearance of these uninvited corporate missionaries is always met by The Look.

In the gym, the yuppies stop peddling their exercycles to stare at the singers with stoopfuddlement. When the grizzled cow-pokes throw open the barn door revealing the pack of Honda interlopers, you'd expect them to shout: "What the blazes are you weirdoes a-doin' in this barn?" Instead, they shoot them... The Look.

But there's more to come. The look of stoopfuddlement is just the set up for a second, more insidious, look. It's The commercial actors are still befuddled, but now they stare back with wan, submissive smiles. They are shown nodding their heads or swinging their fingers approvingly in time with the music -- entrained like mindless zombies.

What is the media telling us here? The message seems to be that the world is filled with unexpected and unknowable mysteries and the best way of responding to the odd and inexplicable is not to challenge it but to submit to it. Don't challenge anything that seems to violate tradition, reason or the laws of physics -- just go with the flow.

In Burger King commercials, a creepy King (a disturbing half-human half-statue with unblinking eyes and a Chucky-like smile) pops up outside peoples' homes offering free food. Do people reel back in horror? Do they slam the door in this creature's frozen face? To the contrary: the adopt The Look -- Stoopfuddlement followed by zombie-bliss.

Even loggers in the deep forests are not beyond the reach of the Burger King. In one commercial, a lumberjack watches as a tree he's just felled, topples to reveal the King standing behind the tree, beaming inexplicably. The logger responds with The Look. And the next time we see the King and the Logger, our Paul Bunyan has become the King's playmate, balancing on a log while the stiff-backed King gives him a playful, poofy shove.

While a creepy King seems to be acceptable, a creepy, gay monarch may have rung some wrong bells. Subsequent Burger King commercial seemed to go out of their way to provide a macho makeover. In one, the King appears in a football stadium and dives head-first over the goal line like an ermine-robed Reggie Bush. In another, a basketball hoop inexplicably appears at the end of a football field and the King goes up for a slam-dunk.

Sadly, people derive many of their social cues from watching movies and TV. That's why responsible culture-casters have made earnest attempts to show our TV and cinema stars puffing a blue-streak on cancer-sticks and briefly toyed with the idea of showing action-heroes clamping on their seat belts before the climatic freeway chase.

It's time to call attention to this latest threat to clear-headedness. When things go wrong (like the invasion of Iraq, the evasions of a Supreme Court nominee, the mispeaking of a power-mad chief executive, or Dick Cheney's latest off-target blast of birdshot), the proper responses should include furrowed brows, raised eyebrows, indignantly flushed cheeks, fists in the air and raised voices.

Not -- God, Allah and Buddha help us -- The Look.

A Humble Proposal on the
Matter of State-sanctioned Murders

To: California Assemblywoman Loni Hancock
Re: Proposed Law on Governor's Role in Executions

Dear Assemblymember Hancock,

Thank you for taking the lead on a critical issue of election reform by becoming an advocate for a statewide Clean Money Campaign. It's time to put an end to "Cash-register Politics" by instituting public financing for candidate who chose to run as clean-money politicians.

With California about to execute its third condemned man in slightly more than two months, I would like to propose an additional piece of corrective legislation.

Without challenging the Death Penalty directly, I would like to propose that the Assembly and Senate formulate a law that would require that any governor who chooses to deny clemency and order the death of a prisoner of state must do more than just read legal documents and meet with lawyers.

In addition, the governor should be required to:

(1) Meet directly with the individual whose life is at issue. The meeting could be 15 minutes. It could be 30 minutes.

(2) Personally attend every execution ordered by the Governor's office. The governor would be required to be present in the execution chamber. Ideally, the governor would also be physically involved in the act of execution.

When he announced his decision to refuse clemency to fellow body-builder, former gang leader and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Tookie Williams, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared it was the "hardest thing I ever had to do."

Apparently, like anything else, condemning someone to death-by-injection gets easier with repetition.

Perhaps this proposed law would apply a much-needed reality check.

Vaya con Gaia,

Gar Smith, Editor, The-Edge

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