Good-bye Gas-Guzzler, Hello Super-Sipper

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What happens to a corporation when environmental concerns overlap with good public relations? You get the latest Beltway love match: Ford Motor Company and the Sierra Club. It seems that ever since the giant automaker began investigating ways to entice green-minded consumers by improving the fuel efficiency of their gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (beyond the requirements established by federal lawmakers), the company's become something of a poster child for corporate responsibility — and a darling of the environmental movement, members of which are pointing to Ford's latest maneuvers as a sign that the very dirty car industry can, in fact, be cleaned up. And Wednesday, when Ford insiders leaked news that the company will actually act on those good intentions by increasing the average fuel economy on its SUVs, environmentalists raised the Ford banner ever higher.

Keep in mind, of course, that environmental lobbyists with an eye on Detroit have had a frustrating decade; they're ready to embrace just about any progress with open arms. For years now, their concerns have been ignored by auto executives who insisted there was no way to improve fuel efficiency and still give consumers the cars they want. The rise of sport utility vehicles only served to exacerbate the tensions between the industry and its fiercest detractors. But now that Ford, ironically once one of the movement's most hated adversaries (think of the Expedition), has made good on a pledge to examine better ways to fuel its cars and trucks, environmentalists may see a light at the end of the tunnel — as well as a new addition to their arsenal in the war against other, more stubborn carmakers. "Ford's decision shows that people who say you can't make cars cleaner and more fuel-efficient are wrong," the energy policy director of the Sierra Club told the New York Times.