Reuters reported some tense moments as Ford Motor Co. shareholders participated in numerous votes in their annual meeting on May 11, including decisions regarding concern over fuel economy and even the caliber of CEO Bill Ford’s leadership. While the final vote showed more than 80% support for the CEO, debate was lively and in some cases highly critical. In the end however, a proposal to require that Ford separate its chairman and chief executive positions, which are both now held by Bill Ford, drew 19 percent of shareholder votes cast. A total of eight shareholder proposals opposed by Ford were voted down at the annual meeting, but two initiatives aimed at curbing the influence of the Ford family in the management of the company drew about one-in-five votes cast Shareholders voted down a proposal that would have stripped the founding Ford family of much of its voting power, by converting Ford Class B stock to common stock. The Class B stock, held mostly by Ford family members, allows 16 votes per share compared to one vote per share for regular shareholders. About 23 percent of votes cast were in favor of equalizing voting rights. Pressed by environmental activists to take steps to improve Ford’s fuel economy, Bill Ford said the company was considering launching a plug-in hybrid, a potential industry first. Plug-in hybrids can be charged from a mains outlet and have greater range in all-electric mode. For longer distances a small gasoline engine kicks in, powering the vehicle like the hybrids currently offered by automakers. Environmentalists have called plug-in technology one of the most immediate ways to improve fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. “Our fleet is getting smaller and we are working hard on ethanol, biofuels and hybrids,” Bill Ford said, More than 95 percent of Ford shareholders voted against a proposal to remove sexual orientation from the automaker’s equal employment policy. Ford has an ongoing struggle with a conservative Christian group over its support of gay rights groups and its decision to advertise in gay publications, a move that prompted the American Family Association to boycott against the company. Ford is struggling in North America, its largest market, where it lost $1.6 billion in 2005 and another $457 million in the first quarter. It has announced plans to shutter 14 plants and cut 34,000 jobs.