Great-grandson of Henry Ford pushes for tax incentives for alternative vehicles

Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford urged Congress Tuesday to offer a package of tax incentives to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil and to drive innovation in the struggling domestic auto industry.

Ford, during a speech in Washington, urged Congress to "dramatically increase" tax credits for research and development of alternative vehicles and consider tax incentives to help American manufacturers modernize their plants.

He also urged investments in training programs for American workers, the encouraging of consumers to buy fuel-saving vehicles and partnerships to build an infrastructure of gasoline stations offering ethanol.

"Now, more than ever, I believe we must take action," Ford said. "If we put our heads together and keep in mind our shared interest in America's future, I'm confident that we can innovate our way toward the right solutions."

Ford had "a productive set of meetings" with senior White House officials later in the day, spokesman Ed Lewis said. The discussions involved advanced vehicle technologies and ways Ford can help the country move toward energy independence, Lewis said.

In September, Ford urged President George W. Bush to convene an energy summit with automakers, suppliers, energy companies, consumers and the government "to discuss our nation's energy security and our role in helping find a solution."

Lewis said the concept of a White House summit was still under review. White House spokesman Allen Abney declined comment on the meeting.

Ford and other American automakers have been hit hard by increased competition from Asia, steep health care expenses and high costs for raw materials.

Ford, the great-grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford, said the incentives could build upon those included in the energy bill signed into law this year. The measure offered up to $3,600 (Ђ3,076) in tax credits for consumers who buy hybrid vehicles and encouraged the use of ethanol.

Ford would need to show that the incentives are not corporate welfare and would help the nation's fleet of vehicles achieve higher fuel economy, said David Friedman, research director of the clean vehicles program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"U.S. taxpayers can't afford to prop up companies that have basically done poor planning, but we can afford to do it if we get something out it," Friedman said.

Ford has launched a public campaign to describe its plans to produce 250,000 hybrids a year by 2010, 10 times the number it produces now. It currently has two hybrid sport utility vehicles on the market.

It has also announced plans to produce 250,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006, including the Ford F-150 pickup, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.

The automaker reported a third-quarter loss of $284 million (Ђ243 million) last month, and Ford said he will complete a restructuring plan in December and announce "significant" U.S. plant closings in January and layoffs affecting salaried workers and hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers.

A day after rival General Motors Corp. said it would eliminate 30,000 jobs and close all or part of 12 facilities, Ford declined to provide details on his company's restructuring plan, reported AP. P.T.

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