DETROIT (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally says the U.S. auto industry should get federal loans even though in past years it focused on pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles instead of more efficient vehicles.
Speaking on the CNBC cable television network Friday, Mulally said Ford built and sold the trucks because marketplace demanded them.
"In the United States, Ford's strategy was to focus on what the customers really wanted, and those were the larger SUVs and trucks," he said. "Fuel prices were low, the interest rates were low. It's what the customers chose."
Ford, he said, has a different strategy now that energy prices have risen, developing a portfolio that includes small cars already on sale in other parts of the world.
"I think worldwide we're all going to care more about energy efficiency, sustainability, security," he said.
The auto industry wants to secure up to $50 billion in government loans over three years to help it modernize factories and develop more fuel-efficient vehicles. Congress authorized $25 billion in loans in last year's energy bill but hasn't funded the program.
General Motors Corp., Ford and Chrysler LLC have been working to secure funding for the loans after months of tight credit markets, tepid sales and high gasoline prices. Industry leaders say the loans are not a bailout because they would speed production of fuel-efficient vehicles and reduce dependence on imported oil.
Mulally also said it's possible the U.S. auto fleet would move from oil to natural gas, although he said there is a lot of room to improve current internal combustion engines to make them more efficient at affordable costs.
After that, he sees more alternate fuels, gas-electric hybrids and eventually electric vehicles and perhaps hydrogen power.
He also said Ford can make money selling smaller vehicles because of cost cuts in last year's agreement with the United Auto Workers and its plan to design and build models for all markets across the world. He said he didn't know if the slumping U.S. auto market has hit bottom yet.