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Ford’s plan to go carbon neutral by 2050 is big on promises, light on details

Ford announced this week that it aspires to be carbon neutral by 2050. It’s an admirable goal, but actually reaching it will require fundamental changes to the car company’s business — including cutting emissions from its factories, from its suppliers, and from the vehicles it manufactures — and some experts want Ford to spell out its interim steps more clearly.

While details on Ford’s plan are scarce, one thing that is clear is that the automaker’s vehicles make up the biggest piece of the sustainability puzzle. They generate 135 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to Fords most recent sustainability report. That’s 36 times the amount of its facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Automakers haven’t always addressed their vehicles’ emissions in sustainability reports, Dr. David Cooke, senior vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Digital Trends. “The majority of the emissions coming from these companies is actually through the use of the vehicles they sell,” he said. “So that’s really that’s an important point that I think has definitely not been true in the industry, broadly.”  

Last year, Daimler committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2039, and Jason Mathers, director of vehicles and freight strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund, hopes Ford’s efforts inspire more car companies to make similar moves. “Part of the importance here is that Ford is setting a standard for the rest of the industry, and the rest of the industry now needs to catch up and meet this level of performance from an environmental perspective,” he said.

“They’re pushing F-150s out right and left. You can’t just offset that with 40,000 Mach Es.”

Earlier this year, Ford said a third of its vehicles will be electric by 2030. It also planned to invest $11 billion in electric vehicles between 2018 and 2022. Yet the sustainability report didn’t offer specifics on how it will electrify its fleet between now and 2050. Just two years ago, Ford said it would turn the majority of its focus from sedans to SUVs and trucks, which use more fuel. Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said Ford can’t afford to wait if it’s serious about its goals. “Carbon dioxide is a cumulative pollutant,” he said. “The sooner it’s emitted, the bigger the problem.”

Thirty-seven percent of the 2.4 million vehicles Ford sold last year were F-150 pickup trucks. Most models get around 18-20 miles per gallon. Meanwhile, in the same year, Ford only sold 7,476 of its Fusion Energi hybrid, according to the United States Department of Energy. Ford is planning on announcing a hybrid F-150 this week, but it’s still expecting its traditional gas and diesel pickups to make up the majority sales for the foreseeable future, according to CNBC.

“They’re pushing F-150s out right and left. You can’t just offset that with 40,000 Mach Es,” Cooke said, referring to Ford’s upcoming $43,895 electric Mustang.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Becker wants to see a deeper shift in Ford’s culture, including its marketing. “They spend billions of dollars a year trying to convince people who don’t really need a pickup truck that they really need a pickup truck,” he said. “And most people who buy pickup trucks today only use them for hauling a latte home from Starbucks.”

Ford’s aspirations come after former CEO Mark Fields supported a rollback of the Obama administration’s fuel economy standards. In 2019, Ford, along with Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW, struck a deal with California to increase the average fuel economy in their vehicles by 3.7%. That doesn’t measure up to the Obama-era targets of requiring automakers to average 54.5 miles per gallon across their vehicle fleets by 2025.

“Do you give them credit for not being as bad as some of their competitors when they still did whatever they could to ensure that it wasn’t as strong as what’s actually, technically feasible, and what’s needed from a climate perspective?” Cooke asked.

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Jenny McGrath
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jenny McGrath is a senior writer at Digital Trends covering the intersection of tech and the arts and the environment. Before…
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