Religious leaders allied with the Evangelical Environmental Network say it's unlikely it would be a gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicle or an oversized pickup. "The Risen Lord Jesus is concerned about the kinds of cars we drive because they affect his people and his creation," the group said in a call to action for Christian leaders on its Web site, whatwouldjesusdrive.org. The network is raising funds by selling "What would Jesus drive?" bumper stickers for $5.
Groups including American leaders of the Serbian Orthodox church, the Episcopal church, the American Jewish Committee, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and other denominations sent letters to the Big Three automakers warning their products are polluting the planet and contributing to global warming. "We write now to ask you in the automobile industry a more explicit question," the letter said. "What specific pledges--in volume, timing and commitments to marketing--will you make to produce automobiles, SUVs and pickup trucks with substantially greater fuel economy?"
General Motors said it welcomed dialogue with groups concerned about the environment but said that ultimately the consumer will decide what kind of vehicles to drive. "For its part, GM has announced several production programs for improving fleet efficiency including: Displacement on Demand; the Allison Diesel-Hybrid bus; the Parallel Hybrid GMC Pickup, the Paradigm hybrid power train for small SUVs, and several other innovative power train technologies," GM said in a statement.
It said the long-term answer is replacing the internal combustion engine with clean hydrogen fuel cells, which produce only heat and water vapor as byproducts.
New 2001 model cars and light trucks averaged 20.4 miles per gallon last year, the lowest fleet fuel economy in 22 years. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bush administration is considering a proposal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would raise mileage standards by about a half-mile per gallon a year between 2005 and 2007.
That would raise overall U.S. average fuel economy to nearly 22 miles per gallon. The current standard is 27.5 miles per gallon. GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have consistently opposed any moves to beef up Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which have not changed since 1996. Representatives of the religious groups also hoped to meet with Ford Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William Clay Ford Jr., an ardent environmentalist who has criticized the wastefulness of SUVs in the past.
Besides making personal pleas to top auto executives, the environmentally conscious grassroots groups plan a television ad campaign in Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina this month calling for improved fuel efficiency to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.