Ford predicts end of car pollution

The 100-year reign of the polluting internal combustion engine is coming to an end, Bill Ford, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, said yesterday.

The 100-year reign of the polluting internal combustion engine is coming to an end, Bill Ford, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, said yesterday.

It will soon be replaced in motor vehicles by the hydrogen fuel cell, which emits no pollution whatsoever and so can reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases causing climate change, Mr Ford, great-grandson of the company's founder, Henry Ford, told the Greenpeace Business Conference in London.

In a remarkable speech from a motor manufacturer, in which he proclaimed his own environmental credentials, Mr Ford, 43, accepted that the automobile had had a serious negative impact on the environment, and that his industry had wrongly played down the threat from global warming.

And the head of the world's second biggest car company raised eyebrows even further when he said that he could foresee the day when people would not want to own cars, but merely have access to mobility.

Detroit-born Mr Ford, who has been chairman since the start of last year, proclaimed that climate change was the most challenging issue facing the world and that anyone who disagreed was "in denial". Ford itself had moved on from that position, he said. But he felt the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 pact in which the industrialised nations agreed to try to limit their emission of greenhouse gases, would not provide deep enough cuts to halt global warming. Only the marketplace, making new technology widely available, could tackle the problem.

A fuel cell creates energy by an electrochemical process similar to that in a battery: it lets hydrogen and oxygen react together to produce electricity and water vapour. It does not run down or need recharging, working as long as the hydrogen fuel is available, but most importantly, it does not produce any CO 2, the basic by-product of any carbon-based fuel such as oil, gas or coal.

Every major car company in the world is throwing huge sums into developing the technology: Ford is spending $1bn (£690m) between now and 2004, while Daimler-Chrysler, regarded as the leader in the field, has spent $700m. All the main manufacturers have prototype fuel-cell cars running and there is a race to bring them to market. Honda and Toyota expect to do so in 2003, while Ford and Daimler-Chrysler are aiming at 2004.

"I believe fuel cells will finally end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine," Mr Ford said, adding that the technology was "the holy grail" of the motor industry.

Prophesying the demise of car ownership, he said: "The day will come when the whole notion of car ownership is antiquated," he said. Mr Ford was reflecting advanced motor industry thinking, which suggests many people might not want to to pay for a car of their own if they could be guaranteed mobility on demand from a local hire network.

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