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Ford breaks down how it plans to reach its zero emissions commitment


Now that the goals crafted at COP26, the U.N.'s climate summit, have been laid out, how will countries and companies actually implement them? One of the big promises made in Glasgow was a pledge to phase out gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 across the globe. Six of the world's biggest automakers signed onto this agreement. Ford is one of them. Cynthia Williams is Ford's global director of sustainability. And when I talked to her yesterday, she admitted it's going to be a heavy lift.

CYNTHIA WILLIAMS: Folks understand that the urgency of climate change is here, right? And so at Ford, we definitely understand that climate change is real and that we have a role to play to reduce the impacts on the environment. Right now I think there's a tipping point. And so we all must work together to make sure that we can, you know, eliminate any obstacles to getting EV vehicles on the road.

MARTINEZ: Now, one of the biggest questions is how - how is Ford going to do this? A broad question, so let's break it down for a second. The auto plants, Cynthia, how long will it take for them to be retooled?

WILLIAMS: So Ford made a couple announcements. We are building a couple new facilities. We're building facilities in Kentucky and also in Tennessee. Those plants will be dedicated to building zero-emission vehicles. We're investing over $30 billion in electric vehicles, including battery production, over the next five years. This just shows you how concretely Ford is geared up to put our money where our mouth is and actually to fund our plan that makes sure that we are successful in the future.

MARTINEZ: What will going electric mean in terms of jobs, given unions' fear that electric vehicle production might mean less labor?

WILLIAMS: So right now what we're seeing - we're seeing an opportunity to grow our business. The plants that we're building, we're bringing on 11,000 additional jobs. It's going to take a cultural shift as we move, but it's different jobs. It might not be the typical job that you're doing today. It might be a different job. But again, we're reskilling workers as well to bring them along on the way.

MARTINEZ: Will training workers mean that you might have to get different workers, younger workers or workers with a different skill set than before?

WILLIAMS: It will - I think it'll encompass all that because once we switch over to EVs, it's a cultural shift. And it's going to take, you know, retraining current workers. It's going to take bringing on new workers. It's all of the above to make sure we're successful.

MARTINEZ: Now, the new pledge, I noticed, covers cars and vans. Does this also cover Ford's flagship pickup trucks, like the F-150?

WILLIAMS: So all vehicles under 8,500 gross vehicle weight are covered under this pledge. F-150 can straddle above and below that weight mark, but it definitely includes light-duty pickup trucks.

MARTINEZ: OK, 'cause I know in the spring of 2022, the F-150 Lightning is expected to be on the roads. I ask about the trucks in particular, Cynthia, 'cause my uncle owns a big, giant Ford pickup truck. He loves his truck. He does not want to even consider a life with an electric Ford pickup truck. And I think when it comes to pickup trucks, there's a certain mindset, a certain way of looking at life, that I think makes people pickup truck owners. Do you think that's going to be difficult to try - eventually to try and sell people, especially pickup truck drivers that, hey, electric is the way to go as opposed to a combustion engine?

WILLIAMS: Well, I'll tell you, the Ford strategy is to make the vehicles like the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning the most capable vehicles that we have. And so it's going to take a mindset. It's going to take a culture change. But I encourage your uncle and other consumers to just try the vehicles. These are the most capable vehicles that we build.

MARTINEZ: Cynthia, what does it say, though, that private businesses such as Ford made the zero-emissions pledge but the United States itself did not join this commitment?

WILLIAMS: You know, I can't speak for the United States or any of the other automakers that didn't sign up. Again, at Ford, we understand that climate change is real, and we have a role to play. And I will say at COP26 last week, we did have numerous meetings with global leaders, including the U.S., and everyone was at the table trying to understand what's required to eliminate the barriers so that we can accelerate the zero-emissions future.

MARTINEZ: Now, OK, companies like Ford are going to also need to rely on the government to ensure that the power grid can handle the sheer number of cars that are going to need to get charged. How confident, though, are you that the U.S. government and other governments that you're going to partner with on this are going to be there when you need them to be there to make this all happen?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's going to take - we realize that we can't do it alone. And that's why we are sitting down with governments around the globe. We are willing to do our part to get - to work towards 100% fully electric vehicles globally. But it takes not only Ford Motor Company working together; it takes all of us working together to make sure that we get to that zero-emissions future.

MARTINEZ: That's Cynthia Williams, Ford Motor Company's global director of sustainability, homologation and compliance. Cynthia, thanks a lot.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIMECOP1983'S "HORIZONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.