Car buyers in four US states will soon hear a religious appeal to their environmental conscience: “What would Jesus drive?”, Associated Press (AP) reported.

AP said that a Pennsylvania-based environmental group is planning television advertising in North Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri to urge consumers to park their pollutive SUVs — Jesus would prefer a cleaner vehicle, the group contends.

“Economic issues are moral issues. There really isn’t a decision in your life that isn’t a moral choice,” AP was told by the Reverend Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, which is sponsoring the “What Would Jesus Drive?”’ campaign.

Associated Press said the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania-based group will begin running television ads this month in eight cities to urge consumers to park their sport-utility vehicles and to buy fuel-efficient cars. The ads contend that the devout ought to consider the SUVs’ effect on the earth, AP added.

AP said the ad campaign was but a small voice in a sea of SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks which last year accounted for half the new vehicles sold in the United States.

The average fuel economy for all 2003 model cars and passenger trucks dropped to 20.8 miles per gallon, AP said, reflecting what vehicle makers and many buyers say is a higher priority on comfort and family needs than saving petrol.

According to AP, vehicle makers say they’d be happy to sell more fuel-efficient vehicles if that’s what Americans wanted to drive.

“If people would be demanding tailfins on cars, we’d be making tailfins on cars. But people aren’t demanding tailfins, Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition of 13 companies that produce most of the country’s vehicles, told AP.

“People want power. Consumers want power,” Shosteck added, according to AP.

AP said Ball and a network of like-minded mainline Christians and Jews hope to alter those buying habits.

Global warming and smoggy air worsened by vehicle exhausts threaten the health of humans, plants and animals worldwide, and the faithful are called to preserve God’s creation, Ball told Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“We think he is Lord of our transportation choices as well as all our other choices,” Ball, an ordained American Baptist minister, told Associated Press. “When you need a new car, you should buy the most fuel-efficient one that truly meets your needs.”

AP said the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign plans to send mailings this month to 100,000 congregations and synagogues discussing the relationship between fuel economy and religious teachings about stewardship and justice.

The campaign is a joint effort of the National Council of Churches and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, AP noted.

AP said the organisations plan a November 20 news conference in Detroit, where they have requested meetings with executives from the Big Three car makers and the United Auto Workers’ union, campaign director Douglas Grace said.

Associated Press said the groups plan to frame their arguments in moral — as well as economic — terms by promoting hybrid and fuel-cell powered vehicles, as well as other fuel-saving technologies.

“We’re trying to show the technology is there, that consumers are interested in it, and they’re interested in buying American,” Grace told AP.

Bell told AP the e-mails and meetings will be supplemented this month by TV ads running in Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina; Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana; Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield and Kansas City, Missouri.