June 25, 2007

Ford to World: "We Promise Global Warming, Melting Glaciers and Dead Polar Bears"

An ad campaign launched today by Ford India seems to be making a mockery of worldwide resistance to global warming. It shows an iceberg apparently destroyed by the SUV and a couple of polar bears stranded on a thin ice sheet.

Top: Close-up view of their ad. Click to see complete background of the ad. The image was downloaded from Ford's site and was available here (ZIP file) at the time of posting.

Left: The complete full-page ad from The Hindustan Times, June 25, 2007.

I woke up this morning to find this shocking full-page ad in the newspaper. My first thought: "Could they be any more INSENSITIVE?" What were they thinking by placing a large honking SUV in front of an iceberg that seems to have been destroyed by it? What are they trying to say? That the "beastly power" (their term used in the ad) of the new 4X4 Ford Endeavour is capable of destruction beyond the roads? If so, then that would be spot on.

Or were they trying to laugh at those of us who are concerned about global warming? Are they, by any chance, celebrating the recent decision of US Automobile standards organisation (CAFE) that gave US Automakers 13 more years to improve vehicle efficiency to a level that we should be getting today? I wonder if it was Al Gore that's the butt of their joke whose hit documentary last year showed increasing cases of drowning polar bears as they can't find any ice to latch on to because of global warming caused by automobiles, among other reasons.

Sarcasm apart, it's probably the work of an ignorant graphic designer approved by some equally dim executives at Ford. That said, this is height of ignorance. No topic has attracted as much media coverage worldwide in recent months as climate change. Papers have devoted special supplements, magazine after magazine continues to come out with special "Green" issues and talk show hosts have gone hoarse talking about the topic. Heck, even 5-year old kids know that polar bears are dying because of global warming...

India, which woke up late (around Feb 2007 after the first IPCC report) to the issue of climate change has now witnessed enough media coverage for it to be quite well known. Arvind Mathew, president and MD of Ford India, would have to be living in a cave to not see the connection with the depiction in this ad.

One thing is clear though, this would never have happened in the U.S. If this ad is released there today, Ford would be lynched. Despite their sorry environmental record, all U.S. automakers have been under tremendous public pressure recently to appear green. Ford U.S. has even been running pro-green ad-campaigns, which incidentally, have also featured polar bears but there they are shown as protected and with care "to ensure that the images are anatomically and scientifically correct".

Ford, in U.S. has also been touting its top-10 green credentials, which at #1 includes, not improved efficiency, but, hold-your-breath: seat covers made of recycled fabric!

Thanks to AutoblogGreen for all the coverage of green issues in the U.S. auto industry. I wonder if our friends there (Sebatian, Mike, Sam?) can ask Ford U.S. for a comment.

UPDATE: If you're just as outraged at this as I am, write to Ford and demand an explanation.

UPDATE 2: Am I over blowing it?

Some of you may think I'm fussing over something trivial. Maybe I overstated it in the heat of things, but there are a bunch of things here that pushed me over the edge...

  • SUVs represent everything that's wrong with the auto industry.
  • They are less safe than the regular cars and on top of that they give the illusion of greater safety.
  • SUVs are also less fuel efficient than regular cars which themselves are far less efficient to begin with.
  • They have far too much space than what's needed or used for city travel.

U.S. Automakers
  • The U.S. auto industry is one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess today.
  • They've had over 100 years to look for alternatives.
  • They've had these alternative technologies for decades.
  • They conspired to destroy mass transit in the middle of last century.
  • They have a history of suppression of new technology.
  • In a more just world, the U.S. automakers would be prosecuted in court. Maybe one day they would be.

Internal Combustion Engine
  • It's a disgrace that the predominant mode of personal travel in the 21st century is still the massively inefficient internal combustion engine.
  • At just around 20% mechanical engine efficiency, they are the most inefficient modes of transport.
  • At less than 1% of well-to-wheel efficiency they waste 99% energy which should be a criminal offense.
  • Yet they are sold to public as high-technology, a panacea.

(I can substantiate each of the above statements if anyone wants me to, but I think there's nothing new here. All of this is quite well known. The problem is, we're so surrounded by mediocrity and inefficiency that we learn to ignore it.)

So my contempt for the internal combustion engine, the U.S. automakers and SUVs, together with my concern for global warming combined to lead to an outburst when I saw that ad.

Notes and links

Ford-India microsite for Endeavour 4X4. Find the picture in downloads section.
News coverage of the launch of the new Endeavour
New CAFE standards announced for US automakers
Official website of Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth
Pro-green ad campaigns run by Ford in U.S.
Top-10 Green achievements of Ford

Polar bear trivia: Bush administration, which has long been denying that global warming is dangerous, first conceded it late last year when they called for protection of polar bears. Later, in March 2007 however, Bush barred scientists travelling abroad from talking on polar bears or climate change.

18 Comments so far      

Blogger Unknown:

This sounds ridiculous! really...what were they thinking!!!!

25 June 2007 at 21:44:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Unknown:

Indeed, America is in a sorry state when it comes to public transportation and automobile responsibility. Take for instance the fact that current American cars are less efficient than they were 20 years ago! Plus, the auto industry exerts huge influence over American politicians by pouring money into lobbying on the hill. That explains the Democrats' recent failure to pass two important bills that sought to impose taxes on the oil industry and compel electric utilities to produce 15% of their energy by renewables by the next 13 years. Things here in the US are certainly not moving as fast as they should, and the world's impression of America continues to plummet.

26 June 2007 at 02:50:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

Thanks for the comment, Anjan. I agree with you and it concerns me that the time to fix things is running out. James Hansen, the leading climate scientist from NASA just released another paper arguing that there's no point in setting up emission targets for 2050 since "we're perilously close to runaway climate change." Hopefully, the radical transformation that's needed in reductions will begin with the change in leadership in U.S. next year. If that happens, the rest of the world will soon follow. If not, we're in deep trouble.

26 June 2007 at 03:15:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger ValkRaider:

1st, I am in no way "defending" auto makers. More on that later...

But it is slightly unfair to say that they are less efficient than they were 20 years ago.

They are significantly more efficient than they were 20 years ago. However - they are ALSO significantly HEAVIER than they were 20 years ago.

For some reason in America they only ever make vehicles larger and larger. Look at the Ford Explorer for an example. Compare the original to the current - it just keeps growing. And Chevy offers 20 different SUVs and Chrysler insists on making everything about the Hemi.

It is not just the Americans, it is the people who SELL in America too. Look at the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV4 - compare their original sizes to current models. And I remember when a Honda Civic was *small*.

Why are none of the small models offered in the USA? Ford, Chevy, and tons of other companies make tiny fuel efficient cars all over the world. I would gladly buy one. But they are just not sold here.

My soul for a Mini Cooper D in the USA. My wife's soul too if it comes in a convertible model...

In addition, cars are not only offering a lot more (all wheel drive, power everything, heated seats, etc etc) - but they are required to meet much higher standards now as well with regards to safety and emissions. Emissions and safety equipment do weigh something. And they sure are not going to sacrifice the heated seats - so we get cars that weigh hundreds if not thousands of pounds more than they need to be to meet their purpose.

I mean the Ford Excursion had all 23 of its seats POWERED so that the little soccer moms could put up or down all the seats by pushing a button.... Come on!

Now, I do think that American manufacturers and auto manufacturers in general *are* at fault for putting more R&D into DVD players and cupholders than they have fuel economy. Come on, the ICE has been around 100 years. It is time to move on! We have so much technology now, but still have many vehicles running on 30 or 40 year old motor designs...

If we can figure out how to make iPods and TiVO, Wii and Segway - we can make a more efficient car...

26 June 2007 at 03:33:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Anonymous Anonymous:

My immediate reaction was that it was an act of subversion on the part of the graphic designer. But maybe that's giving a designer who works for Ford too much credit.

26 June 2007 at 08:38:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Anonymous Anonymous:

This is totally ridiculous. Just picking up an image and trying to interpret it in a way you want to see things is totally insane and leads other people in the wrong direction. I saw other similar ads on the ford website with background all "Green". Perhaps you didnt see this message from Ford? Get something useful to write about, dont just pick things and make your own interpretations about it and yes, just to clarify, i dont work for Ford nor do i like their cars.

28 June 2007 at 06:18:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

The ad published in the paper is this. There was no other ad. How else is one to interpret when he comes across this knowing what we know about these cars and the harm they cause to the environment?

28 June 2007 at 07:05:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger a correspondent:

I am in India, and yes, the ad is those aware of global warming, polar bears etc.

But this is hot and sweaty India, and for most of us here, icebergs and polar bears are things very distant to feel anything about. Show a tiger in trouble and you get into a big mess in India, or a tree being cut down. But the SUV-polar bear-iceberg connection does not exist in India largely, and in that sense, it can be pardoned I suppose.

1 July 2007 at 19:38:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger jlr:

The current US cars are faster, quieter, more spacious, and more efficient than ever. The real problem is that Americans are obsessed with "keeping up with the Jones's" which equates to living more ostentatiously than those around you... this is done most effectively by driving a bigger, flashier car than everyone else, and having a bigger house, and living further away from the city than everyone else. Most of the cars I rode in built in the 80's were poorly laid out and inefficient, and lacked legroom and headroom for anyone over 6 feet tall (I'm 6'5"). The auto industry only attempts to coerce politicians to allow them to build cars they know they can sell, and for a rapidly-growing-older and obese population, big sells. Add to this the relative affluence of the buying public, and it isn't going to matter how many mini-cooper cars you shove in the showroom, most of them are going to sit there while the Expedition ELs and Suburbans flow out of the dealership lots...If you have to have a van or an SUV in order to carry your whole brood to visit Grandpa and Grandma, and you'd like to have a Prius for your work commute, but you have to buy just one, 95% of the population is going to buy the SUV because 1)It's more comfortable for the family to spread out on long trips,
2)The buyer will rationalize that the work commute is not too far, so the atrocious city mpg won't add up too much
3)The dealerships make a larger margin on the SUVs, so they market them much more aggressively

Ironically, when the price of gas goes up, the SUVs glut the market, so to move them, the incentives go up...everyone who's been waiting to get one rushes out and gets it while the price is down...

In a utopian world, everyone would only buy as much car as they need...but currently, most people tend to buy as much as they might ever need, or as much as they can afford. Then they suck up the extra cost for the privilege of having that extra capacity. It's easy to sit back and hammer on the US car companies and US politicians, but the sad fact is that if Americans as a general rule wanted smaller, more efficient cars, the carmakers would sell them to them. Show me a "new and improved" model that shrinks, and I'll bet for the most part they lose market share... Ask anyone you know that's recently bought a Toyota Tundra if they bought it because it was small and economical, or ask a contractor if he drives a Ford SuperDuty or Dodge Megacab if he only bought the minimum size he could "get by with"... you know the answers, the guy driving the Toyota buys it because it advertised the highest horsepower, yada, yada, and he's compensating; the contractor because he doesn't buy a vehicle for the smallest load he might need to move, but for the eventuality of the largest...

I'm also not defending the automakers intentionally, but you can't hammer companies who for the most part do their best to provide what the buying public wants...I don't know anyone whose gone into a dealership and told a salesman "I want a small, fuel-efficient car" and was told he couldn't have one, he had to buy a big honkin' SUV... So gripe at the graphic designer if you want, rant about the insensitiviy of the ad, but don't rant on the carmakers for supporting human nature in it's lemming-like quest for extinction

2 July 2007 at 10:00:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

JLR, all your arguments, particularly - that US automakers only sell what the people want, are demolished by this single irrefutable fact:

Number of small cars models offered for sale in U.S. are tiny compared to the number of SUVs. Yet, small cars are now outselling SUVs. (Source and commentary: NY Times)

So which automakers are selling these small cars in such large numbers? They are predominantly European and Asian. What's the share of U.S. automakers in small car sales? Zero. Ford is said to have developing subcompacts and Chrysler has declared that "it cannot build a profitable small car in North America."

2 July 2007 at 16:46:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Anonymous Anonymous:

Manu, part of the credo of SUVs is having a devil may care attitude towards liberal left-wing concerns like global warming, ecological footprint and what-not.

Your argument is akin to a sports car advertising it's speed, being insenstive to deaths due to road accidents.

7 August 2007 at 14:22:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

Yes, but sports car makers don't advertise people run over by a fast sports car, do they?

Oh and global warming isn't a "liberal left-wing concern." It's a scientifically validated planetary emergency. Earth is warming, humans are causing it and we're headed towards an unmistakable annihilation if we don't alter our ways today.

BTW, I just saw the same ad again in today's newspaper supplement (HT City) and this time there's no polar bear to be seen while everything else is the same. Even the Endeavour microsite has removed images of the iceberg ad. The wallpaper I linked to in my entry now features another image.

Apparently someone at Ford India woke up after this post.

7 August 2007 at 16:05:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Anonymous Das:

Hi Manu

Probably a little late to respond, but could not help it.

Excellent post I must say. But you did overlook one big fact that because of large diesel guzzling machines you know of the Polar Bears today. I can't remember the last time I saw any environmentalist traveling to remote corners of the world in an Electric Car. For that matter Green Peace guys using a Sail Boat.

Personally, I hate the Green Peace guys who distribute printed leaflets on the road, adding to more chopped trees.

Just to clarify, I do not work for Ford, or for that matter any Automobile company. But here are some other Facts. Ford was the first one to create a Hybrid SUV (google it) and they have made many of them, exactly same as the one shown in the Ad.


Its the prohibitive import costs, that stops them from selling and marketing them in India.

28 March 2009 at 21:18:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Anonymous car blog:

I dont think Ford bothered to take the car to the artic, its a photoshop job.

2 April 2009 at 02:25:00 GMT+5:30 link  
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