Bill Ford: Detroit needs predictability

A higher gas tax would lend stability to prices at the pump and enable automakers to plan better, says Ford's chairman.

By David Whitford, editor-at-large

Laguna Niguel, Calif. (Fortune) -- What does Bill Ford, CEO of the only Detroit Three automaker not likely to file for Chapter 11 anytime soon, have in common with power-company CEOs David Crane of NRG Energy and Jim Rogers of Duke Energy? A deep aversion to unpredictability.

That's why Crane and Rogers have been begging for carbon legislation for years - so they can make big investments in renewable energy. And it's why Ford (F, Fortune 500) says he wants a gasoline tax - so he can invest in smaller cars.

Ford told conferees at Fortune's Brainstorm: Green conference on Monday that when gas prices topped $3.50 a gallon last summer, a "sea change" occurred: suddenly everybody wanted smaller cars. But the seas shifted again just a few months later when gas prices fell.

"As a manufacturer, we don't like that," said Ford. "Our ability to forecast has been just horrible," said Ford. "If gas prices are gyrating wildly, we have no idea whether we're planning right. We'd much rather have a fairly predictable level to shoot for in gas prices. That's why I think a gas tax would work for us."

Ford was somewhat less candid on the last question he got from the conferees: Who will his 0-16 Detroit Lions choose in this year's NFL draft? "We've got first choice," he said, "and...time's up!"

Follow the Brainstorm: Green conference on Twitter at twitter.com/greenwombat and twitter.com/marcgunther. To top of page

More Galleries