Ford’s chief executive Bill Ford Jr has said that a combination of a petrol tax and incentives for consumers to buy hybrid vehicles would be the best way to boost sales of more fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States.

According to Reuters, Bill Ford said he has supported a petrol tax of 50 cents a gallon, but preferred tax breaks for consumers who buy cars with new fuel-saving technology such as hybrids.

“Even going back four or five years I used to say that I’d support a 50 cent gas tax,” Ford reportedly said at the New York motor show, adding: “I think that a combination of gas taxes and incentives would also be something we could support. But I don’t know how high.”

Ford said he realised a petrol tax was difficult politically and noted that the energy bill debated in the US Congress included a $US3,000 incentive for more fuel-efficient vehicles, the report said.

Citing JD Power figures, Reuters said that current petrol-electric hybrid vehicles cost on average $4,000 more than a comparable vehicle and, at that cost, it would take consumers years for the savings from better fuel economy to offset the higher price.

The news agency noted that other industry officials, including General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz, have also voiced support for higher petrol taxes and sales incentives.

Reuters also noted that, unlike in Europe, where high petrol prices and government policies drive consumers to fuel-efficient models, relatively low petrol prices in the United States have contributed to the popularity of SUVs.

But Ford reportedly said that puts the current US fuel regulations, which require vehicles to achieve a certain average fuel efficiency, into conflict with consumer demands.

Despite regulations, the average fuel economy of vehicles on US roads has declined over the past two decades with the growth of sport utility vehicle sales, Reuters added.

“Under the (US) system, we’re being pulled one way by the customer, and the other way by regulation, and that to me is unsustainable in the long run,” Ford reportedly said, adding: “Anything that can help align a customer’s pocketbook interest with their purchase intention” would help promote greater fuel efficiency.

According to the report, Ford also said that, in Europe, where governments have high fuel taxes and incentives to buy diesel-powered vehicles, fuel efficiency has been rising and consumers must consider the fuel efficiency of the vehicles they buy because of the high costs of petrol and diesel.

Reuters noted that, even with the recent surge in US petrol prices to record highs, unadjusted for inflation, carmakers said that consumers have shown no desire to give up SUVs.

Ford also cautioned that consumers shouldn’t expect a return to the low petrol prices of the past, the report added.