Ford has responded to recent criticism from environmentalists by creating a new senior level executive position reporting directly to Ford’s chief executive Alan Mulally.

According to The Financial Times today, Susan Cischke, formerly head of Ford’s environmental and safety engineering, will be charged with establishing a long-range sustainability strategy and environmental and safety policy for the company.

Specifically the FT reports that Ford said Susan Cischke would be responsbile for ensuring that Ford’s products “meet or exceed all safety and environmental regulations worldwide.” She would work closely with Derrick Kuzak, head of Ford’s global product development to build sustainable technologies

The article notes that Ford lags most European vehicle manufacturers which already have a board member responsible for environmental issues.

The Big Three Detroit vehicle makers are severely lagging their Japanese and European competitors in terms of the environmental performance of their vehicles. Honda and Toyota left Detroit’s Big Three trailing in the dust in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) biennial ranking of the greenest automakers.

For the fourth time in a row, Honda topped the science organisation’s rankings as the country’s greenest automaker. Toyota followed closely behind having made significant cuts in global warming pollution.

Hyundai-Kia, Nissan and Volkswagen were in the middle of the pack, coming in third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Ford and General Motors, meanwhile, were at the back, and DaimlerChrysler placed last.

Ford was the cleanest of the Detroit automakers, finishing sixth. But if Ford had made the same progress cutting global warming pollution in its U.S. fleet as it has with its European fleet, it would have finished in fifth.