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Fuel economy as a moral issue?

November 22, 2010

A television ad campaign with the tagline "What Would Jesus Drive?" is being mounted by religious leaders who argue that gasguzzling vehicles are contrary to Christian moral teachings about protecting people and the earth. Top officials of Ford and General Motors met last week with representatives of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, whose ads airing in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and North Carolina urge Christians to buy the most fuel-efficient vehicle that they think suits their needs.

Automakers have regarded complaints about SUVs as a cause for environmental activists, but the involvement of religious leaders could signal a troubling escalation. Some worry a religious campaign could persuade consumers across the country to forsake the industry's most profitable products in favor of lessprofitable vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas.

The soaring popularity of SUVs has deflated the average fuel economy of the U.S. fleet to its lowest point in two decades-about 21 miles per gallon. Automakers argue they build what Americans want, but more than 30 senior U.S. religious leaders demur. "Because automobiles (have) such an extraordinary global impact, choices about what cars to build raise fundamental moral issues," the leaders wrote in an open letter. "Automobile manufacturing now requires thinking about values, not just vehicles."