Henry Ford II, chairman of the Ford Motor Co., ended the informal detente between the auto industry and the federal government at the auto maker's annual meeting here today.
Ford, an early supporter of President Carter, expressed a growing irritation with the administration and Congress for their handling of a variety of issues affecting the automobile industry.
He took several scornful slaps at the government for its actions and inactions on emissions limits, the airbag safety device, and the proposed tax-rate program for automobiles.
"At times I have the feeling that some legislative and administrative actions are guided less by the desire to produce real benefits for the American public than by the desire to create the impression that all kinds of useful things are being done," Ford said.
Ford was asked if he was sorry he had supported President Carter; he was probably the most important businessman nationally to do so. "No, I'm not sorry I supported him . . . but I've got a few disagreements," he said.
Particularly ranking Ford, as well as other auto executives and the leadership of the UAW, is the recent support by the administration for a one-year extension of the 1977 emissions limits. All had sought a two-year extension, some very reluctantly.
The tighter limits now envisioned for the 1979 model cars will "cause a helluva problem" and cost "at least 5 to 10 per cent in fuel economy," Ford said.
For more than six months, auto industry leaders, including those in the union, have been noticeably muted and restrained in their comments on issues such as airbags and emissions.
At the Ford annual meeting, held in the newly opened Ford-sponsored Renaissance Center with nearly 2,500 shareholders present, Henry Ford II ended that relative quiet. He told the shareholders "we in business management are going to have to be a lot more effective and a lot more persistent than ever before in carrying our cases to the public and to the public's elected representatives. He added that "your management is awake and fighting."
Ford Motor Co.'s capital spending will be one-half billion dollars every three months for the next four years, he said.
The main reason "is the need to meet government standards by redesigning our North American car lines, making them smaller and lighter, improving their aerodynamics, developing new engines and drive trains and emission control systems." In the past, capital spending was made primarily to increase productivity, market share or capacity, he said.
Ford raised his predictions for 1977 U.S. vehicle sales to 11.2 million cars and 3.8 million trucks, a million units more than the 14 million he had predicted exactly five months ago.
He cited the reopening of the airbag issue as an example of the government confusing real benefits for the public with the image of such [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Without a large-scale test of their effectiveness and the public's willingness to buy airbags, a choice between that safety device and shouder belts "will have to be made mainly on the basis of conjecture and subjective judgment," Ford said.
Another example is the government's fumbling and fiddling with vehicle emission standards," Ford said. The company is "perilously close to shutting down production if something is not done."
Following the meeting, Ford president Lee A. Iacocca estimated July 15 as the deadline for that drastic event.
A shareholder proposal on ending business in South Africa occupied perhaps 30 minutes of the roughly 3-hour-long meeting, but was rejected by 98 per cent of the voted shares.