Ford calls on Congress to act

Bill Ford, the chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Co., called on Congress and the White House to adopt a sweeping package of tax breaks to boost struggling American automakers and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

The package focuses principally on encouraging American consumers to buy more hybrids by passing more tax cuts to support their development and other incentives, even as some in Congress are stepping up their efforts to cut federal spending.

Ford said he was meeting with White House officials later today to discuss his plan and his call, first made in September, for the administration to convene a summit of American auto and oil and gas industry leaders and government officials to discuss the nation's energy needs.

"We all depend on an energy supply that is increasingly scarce and expansive and a world beyond our borders that is filled with unrest," Ford said, in a speech given at the National Press Club and co-sponsored by the Business Roundtable, a group of the CEOs of America's largest companies.

Ford's speech comes on the heels of more bleak news for the American auto industry. Ford's domestic rival General Motors announced this week that it would layoff 30,000 employees. Ford said his company would announce its downsizing plan in January, and that it would include plant closings.

In his speech, Ford took care to distinguish the relative importance of American and foreign automakers to the domestic economy, noting for example that American carmakers employ 90 percent of the autoworkers here.

He said "American" or some iteration of the word at least 20 times in a 20-minute speech, and drew a negative comparison with the U.S. government's support of its auto industry to the support Japan and South Korea gives their own.

Ford said Congress should "dramatically increase" a popular research and development tax credit to include companies that make advanced vehicles, components and fuel technologies.

He called on tax breaks for American manufacturers to encourage the retrofitting of old plants with the latest technologies.

And he urged the government to create a larger market for fuel-efficient cars and trucks by purchasing only hybrids or other alternatively powered vehicles by 2010.

But environmental groups will likely note one thing that's missing. The plan does not include an increase in corporate average fuel economy as one cooperative government-industry effort to cut fuel use. The auto industry continues to reject calls to increase CAF