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In a sharp shift of strategy, Ford Motor plans to focus less on hybrid technology and more on a wider range of alternatives to traditional gasoline-powered engines, Ford Chief Executive Bill Ford told employees of the automaker.

Ford backed away from a commitment made last fall to build production capacity for 250,000 hybrid vehicles by the end of the decade, calling that goal "too narrow" in a company-wide e-mail message to the automaker's employees on Wednesday. The No. 2 U.S. automaker released the e-mail to media on Thursday.

Ford, which has faced criticism for lacking a consistent vision for its product development strategy, had heavily promoted its commitment to hybrid technology. Hybrids run on a combination of gasoline and electricity.

"Our strategy going forward is not to wed ourselves to a single technology," Ford said. "The strategy doesn't focus on one catch-all solution but offers a flexible array of options, including hybrids, clean diesels, biodiesels, advanced engine technologies and E85 ethanol."

The CEO's remarks come as U.S. automakers have offered a pledge to more than double their annual production of vehicles capable of running on renewable fuels such as ethanol to 2 million cars and trucks by 2010.

The commitment to more vehicles powered by fuels other than gasoline follows a meeting between the CEOs of Ford, General Motors, the Chrysler Group and congressional leaders last month on efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The executives and lawmakers also discussed way to help the struggling Detroit-based carmakers better compete with Asian rivals such as Toyota and Honda.

Ford beat its U.S. rivals in offering the first American-made full hybrids, which offer sharply improved gas mileage through the use of a battery that recharges during braking.

Full hybrids are capable of running only on electric power at low speeds, such as in stop-and-go traffic.

But Ford has to resort to sales incentives to sell its Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid models, a sharp contrast to the success that Toyota has seen with its sold-out Prius hybrid.

When we launched our push last fall for innovation in environmental technologies, hybrids were the only way we knew to drive the results we wanted," Ford told employees. "During the past nine months, we've seen a dramatic increase in the commitment to E85 as well as advances in other technologies."

The debate over the emerging group of alternatives to traditional combustion engines comes as U.S. consumers put an increasing premium on fuel-efficiency and low operating costs in the face of volatile gasoline prices.

The stakes are particularly high for Ford, which has the lowest fleet mileage of any of the automakers and relies on light-trucks for two-thirds of sales.

But Bill Ford, who assumed operational responsibility for the automaker in early April, told employees that the emphasis on other alternative technologies would mean improved fuel economy and lower emissions of carbon dioxide, which have been linked to global warming.

"While we will continue to develop and expand our hybrid portfolio in the U.S. and around the world, the broader array of technologies we are adopting will yield a net improvement for both customers and the environment," the CEO said.

cnet.news
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:blahblah
Ford is all talk.
 
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