MANILA Philippines — American vehicle maker Ford Motor Corp. is going green.

With the growing pain at the pump pushing more people to turn to fuel-efficient cars the company is taking the lead in producing car engines that can use alternative fuels.

Henry T. Co president of Ford Group Philippines announced on June 14 that the company is pouring in $20 million to expand its plant in Sta. Rosa Laguna south of Manila to manufacture car engines that can use ethanol. Ford Philippines is a subsidiary of the Dearborn Michigan-based auto giant.

Ethanol or ethyl alchohol is an additive which can be blended with petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline to reduce the consumption of the latter and decrease air pollution. Ethanol is commonly derived from crops such as sugarcane and corn.

Co made the announcement during a roundtable discussion with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Malacañang and other businessmen and government officials.

The Arroyo government is pushing for alternative fuel sources in light of the rising crude prices in the world market which resulted in weekly gasoline price increases in the country.

Co said the engines “for flexible fuel vehicles [will use] 20% ethanol.” He added that these vehicles are less expensive and more environment-friendly than conventional vehicles.

The company’s founder Henry Ford built his first automobile the quadricycle a horseless carriage using pure ethanol.

Arroyo lauded the announcement of Ford Philippines saying “Congratulations! That would be an expansion.”

According to a company press statement start-up activities have commenced with two companies being set up — an engine head machining company and an engine manufacturing company. “Key technical people are being trained in a flexible fuel engine plant in the Asia Pacific region while equipment installation will soon begin to support full commercial production before the end of this year ” the press statement said.

“The implementation of this new investment project is a demonstration that Ford’s view of doing business in the Philippines remains positive. We also have a high level of confidence in the capability of the Filipino workforce ” Co said.

Ford Philippines is the first manufacturer of flexible fuel vehicles not only in the Philippines but in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region as well. Flexible fuel vehicles are designed to run on either conventional gasoline or gasoline mixed with bio-ethanol. The company’s first FFV product is the Ford Focus E20 (running on 80% gasoline and 20% ethanol) which are available locally and in several Asian markets.

To promote its FFV program Ford Philippines provided several units of its Focus E20 to ministers attending the ASEAN Economic Ministers retreat in Manila last May 15 and 16. Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc provided the ethanol blend fuel.

“Through this activity we [were] able to further express our commitment in making the Philippines as our ASEAN Center of Excellence for Flexible Fuel Vehicle Technology ” Co added.

For his part Peter Favila Philippine secretary of trade and industry said “We appreciate the support that Ford has extended to the government’s alternative-fuel program with the new investments in a flexible engine plant in Sta. Rosa Laguna. The launch of the first flexible fuel vehicle is a testimony that the Philippines can produce vehicles that are world class and environment friendly. This strengthens our position to become an important player in the region’s automotive industry.”

A Ford Focus costs anywhere from 945 000 pesos or $17 730 to 1.025 million pesos or $19 231 prices still beyond the reach of the ordinary Filipino car owner. The vehicle comes with either a 1.8-liter (Ghia) or 2.0-liter engine (Sport).

Meanwhile Ford chose Mindanao the southernmost island-region of the Philippines as the future center of ethanol production in the country. It has a wide area of planted corn which can supply raw materials needed to produce the fuel additive.

Co said these ethanol plants would help create more job opportunities in Mindanao the bedrock of Muslim insurgency in the Philippines with possible links to Al Qaeda. “The more economic activities we create in Mindanao the more we fight terrorism through development ” he told reporters last month.

About 20 000 employees work for Ford Philippines. The company not only produces vehicles for the local market but also exports to Thailand Indonesia Malaysia and Vietnam. Aside from the Ford Focus the Ford Escape Mazda3 and Mazda Tribute are also assembled in the Sta. Rosa plant. The plant was built in 1997 at a cost of roughly $70 million and can produce over 25 000 vehicles a year. To date the company has cumulatively exported over 43 000 vehicles valued at more than $540 million.

Aside from producing vehicles using ethanol-based fuel engines hydrogen-powered vehicles are also being pursued by its parent company. At present Ford Motor is road-testing Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles in seven states in the U.S. as well as in Canada and Germany. It will soon be producing its first line of hydrogen-powered buses. MBJ