ATLANTA - In a startling admission, Ford Motor Co. says that its profitable business in sport-utility vehicles hasn't always been consistent with its desire to be more environmentally responsible.
The critical comments were delivered in a book given to shareholders who attended Ford's annual meeting Thursday.
''We take our social responsibility seriously,'' chairman William Clay Ford Jr. said after the meeting. ''Our approach to SUVs and the environment has not always been responsible, but now we're in the leading position.''
The automaker's SUVs were the major engine behind the company's record profits of $7.2 billion last year. Demand for several models, including the hulking Excursion, has almost outpaced supply.
Ford, a great-grandson of Henry Ford, has made environmental concerns one of his top priorities, promoting his views inside and outside the company.
In a 98-page book, ''Connecting With Society,'' the company concedes that SUVs burn more gas and emit more pollution than cars and can pose a danger to smaller vehicles in crashes. Ford admits that ''with a few exceptions, its products are not industry leaders in fuel economy.''
The book even quotes a Sierra Club press release that ''the gas-guzzling SUV is a rolling monument to environmental destruction.''
Ford said the book was part of the company's effort to be more ''transparent'' about the problems the company is facing and its proposed solutions. The book also promotes several environmentally friendly steps made by the automaker, such as making its SUVs meet low-emission standards and increasing the number of recyclable parts.
''That's the risk in being transparent - it highlights things in the past that we'd rather not highlight,'' Ford said.
But Ford and Jac Nasser, the company's president and CEO, said the company would continue to build and market SUVs to meet customer demand. They said that if the automaker limited its SUV sales in the name of environmental concerns, competitors would simply pick up more customers.
''We're never going to please everybody,'' Ford said. ''But we do pledge to work on it. ... Our customers love them.''