Living on Earth
January 27, 2006


The big headlines for Ford Motor Company have been centered around the
extensive layoffs and plant closures slated for the next few years.
But at the same time, the company came out with a plan to mass-produce
recyclable hybrid cars that might just bring Ford back into the green.
Tim O'Brien is the director of the Piquette Project. He joins host
Steve Curwood from his office in Dearborn, Michigan.

CURWOOD: So, how would you like a car that burns a lot less fuel, has
a non-toxic interior and, when it finally costs too much fix, its
maker will take it back?

Those are some of the concepts behind the secret Piquette project of
the Ford Motor Company, named after the original model T plant. Ford
quietly leaked the existence of the project to the press at the same
time it announced layoffs of up to 30,000 employees and the closing of
14 plants in the years ahead.

Necessity may be the mother of invention... or in this case,
environmentalism, as Ford figures out how to compete with eco-friendly
big sellers like the Toyota Prius.

Tim O'Brien is the Vice President of Corporate Relations at Ford, and
director of the Piquette Project team. Mr. O'Brien, thanks for joining

O'BRIEN: It's my pleasure, Steve.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about the business for a moment. Headlines
recently have been filled with Ford's woes; the market for cars is
changing, the economy is changing. So I have to ask you this: is the
mission of the Piquette Project to save Ford Motors?

O'BRIEN: I don't think our mission is to save Ford Motor Company at
all. Ford Motor Company certainly is in a very competitive business;
we've set forth a plan that we think is going to position us to
succeed in that business. But Bill and the company, I think, have a
hundred-year history of really challenging the existing paradigm and
rethinking what's going to make us a successful business and a
successful value to people in the future.

So without regard to how successful you are at the moment, you need to
be thinking in those terms. And that's really what Piquette is about.
What is the future of the auto industry? How can we differentiate
ourselves? What are the innovations that are necessary? What that
might look like as early as 2008.

CURWOOD: Okay, let's talk about some possible elements. I know, of
course, that you have some trade secrets you don't want to talk about
publicly until you're ready to go with them, but press reports say
you're looking at really a recycled vehicle approach, and also a
fairly green vehicle approach. Let's talk about how you might recycle
a car. There's a company out called Interface that makes carpets but
doesn't sell carpets; it leases them to customers, because when the
carpet is old and worn out it takes it back and uses it to remake more
carpets. Are you doing something along those lines?

O'BRIEN: Well I think the Interface example that you give is very
instructive. They've rethought their business, and they've done a
couple of important things. First of all, they're addressing important
environmental issues; but secondly, they're trying to do that in a way
that really creates a new and opportunistic business model. That is
exactly what we're trying to do here with the Piquette Project.

CURWOOD: So in the future I might lease a Ford, and when that Ford is
too tired to go any further you'd take it back and remake it into more

O'BRIEN: Well I think what we understand, Steve, is that in a
sustainable business future we need to create products that are not
only valuable to the customer while the customer is using them, but
have a residual value, whether it's the technical components of the
vehicle or the environmental aspects of the vehicle. We understand
that that needs to have a value in the future and we think if we
design that in we can begin to create a very different dynamic in our

CURWOOD: Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute is rather
famous for his synthesis of what he calls the hypercar, ways that you
can remake cars of different materials using, say, carbon rather than
steel - I guess the goal there is to be ultra-light - and he says you
can get 100 miles to the gallon that way. What of those factors is
going to be in your new car?

O'BRIEN: All of those factors are going to be considered, Steve. I
think our challenge here is to pick up the creative thoughts of people
like Amory Lovins. And this notion of bringing in thoughts from
environmental leaders like Amory, or businesses like Interface, is
very much a part of Piquette. We need to bring those in to our
business and then make a business case out of them. There is nothing
that's off the table, but at the same time we need to be serious-
minded business people. This is not sustainable if it's not

CURWOOD: So you're not looking for a premium market, you're looking
for a mass market here?

O'BRIEN: That's right. We want to make a vehicle that is responsive to
the general marketplace. This should not be a science project; this
should be something that makes sense to you and me as consumers.

CURWOOD: Now time seems to be really a pretty big factor in all of
this. Do you guys have enough time? Has this been set in motion to
give you the product?

O'BRIEN: Yes, we do have enough time, Steve. And actually what I like
is we've set for ourselves a schedule that is less time than you would
normally use in this company, or in our industry, to do something of
this nature. We have to do things differently if we want different
results, and that's why I'm so glad that we're doing things like the
Piquette Project. We are not approaching our business in the usual
fashion. We recognize that the usual fashion won't succeed in the
future. The Piquette is really a stretch opportunity to redefine what
that future might be.

CURWOOD: Tim O'Brien is the Vice President for Corporate Relations at
the Ford Motor Company and director of the Piquette Project team.
Thank you, sir.

O'BRIEN: It's my pleasure, Steve, thank you.

CURWOOD: Ford hopes the Piquette project will be ramped up enough by
2010 to be able to put a quarter million hybrid recyclable vehicles on
the road.

Copyright 2006 Living on Earth and World Media Foundation.