Ford Pinto – A Car Manufactured by Ford Motor

The Ford Pinto case study provided an interesting insight into the automotive industry. The fact that an automobile manufacturer was willing to allow a product onto the streets that had the potential to maim or kill someone is astounding. This paper will analyze the case further and investigate ethical and moral issues found in the Ford Motor Company’s decisions. Events in the Case and Their Causes

The Ford Motor Company sought to create a vehicle on par with those being imported from Japan. Those vehicles were not known for their overwhelming quality, but for their competitive price point. Ford sought to create a vehicle that weighed less than two thousand pounds and cost no more than two thousand dollars (Shaw & Barry, 2010). The model that Ford created in an expedited fashion was the Pinto, which is now well known for its exploding gas tanks. The Pinto’s chief weakness was its gas tank, which would leak when the vehicle was struck from behind.

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The NHTSA was in the process of mandating that all 1972 and newer vehicles pass a rear crash test at twenty miles per hour and that speed would go up to thirty the following year while the Pinto was in development (Shaw & Barry, 2010). The Pinto did not pass the rear crash test. Because the NHTSA regulation was merely in development stages, Ford elected to produce the Pinto without improvement to the structural integrity of the gas tank and its components. All Ford would have had to do to reinforce the gas tank was insert a piece of steel between the rear bumper and gas tank costing no more than eight dollars (Shaw & Barry, 2010).

Ford’s rationale behind producing the vehicles as-is is troubling. The company performed a cost-benefit analysis, defined as “an analysis in monetary terms of the expected cost of doing something” (Shaw & Barry, 2010). Ford’s analysis showed that the risk of death and dismemberment was not too great as to recall the Pinto to repair the gas tank issues. It stood to make approximately one hundred million dollars in spite of the money allocated to paying for issues that arose from the car’s problem. It was not until 1976 that the NHTSA’s thirty mile per hour test was adopted and Ford was forced to place impenetrable gas tanks into its Pinto.

In spite of a criminal homicide case brought upon Ford in 1980, the company still “denied that the Pinto is unsafe compared with other cars of its type and era” (Shaw & Barry, 2010). Ford’s Ethical Misgivings The Ford Motor Company put a vehicle on the roads knowing that it had the potential for hazardous reactions to rear end collisions. The decision to put an unsafe vehicle onto America’s streets was done because a cost-benefit analysis revealed that it would cost too much to strengthen the gas tanks and potentially save lives.

According to the case study, this decision led to what critics believe to be a staggering five hundred deaths which (Shaw & Barry, 2010). Some fifty lawsuits were brought upon the company and while a jury awarded one hundred twenty five million in damages, the judge in the case reduced that amount to three million five hundred thousand (Shaw & Barry, 2010). This was a very egoist approach in which Ford looked only after its own interests. The potential loss of lives was of no consequence when Ford sought to increase its profit margin by creating a domestic automobile to compete with similarly priced autos from abroad.

The fact that Ford was found not-guilty in a criminal homicide case only bolstered its decision and likely caused questionable decisions to be made since then. It is interesting to apply this to current issues in the automotive industry and the constant battle for the label of top domestic automaker.

The consequences of Ford’s actions have caused a number of deaths and injuries that may not have been necessary. The most pronounced example of this lack of judgement can be seen in the incident occurring on 10 August 1978. Three people were killed when the un-reinforced gas tank of the Pinto exploded with the car was struck from behind. All three people in the car burned to death. This is consequence enough, but further negligence prevailed many years later when Ford was involved with other issues surrounding their Explorer model that was prone to rollovers. It seems as though the manufacturer has cut corners on more than one model to increase its profits. The addition of a few pieces of technology, although somewhat pricey, could have avoided the rollovers.

Ford clearly was not going to put the money into the autos to avoid issues until they came to light and were publicized. Potential Solutions The potential solutions to Ford’s problems are somewhat obvious. Had the company done the necessary modifications to the vehicles, both Pinto and Explorer, there would likely have been far fewer deaths than occurred. Putting unsafe vehicles onto the roads was immoral and unethical.

There are a number of moral issues presented by the decision of Ford to produce an unsafe vehicle. That decision alone is the most prevalent and disturbing issue in this case. The manufacturer knew that all it would take to make the vehicle safe is to add an eight dollar piece of metal to bolster the rear crumple zone.

If Ford officials were asked to justify the decision to put the Pinto I feel as though they would it be difficult to so. There is nothing moral about endangering the life of someone paying money for your product that you know can harm them. Ford did not give equal consideration to each affected party. They only considered themselves. Rather than a Utilitarian approach, Ford took an Egoist approach and only looked toward the profit margin for affirmation of their decision.

Cost-benefit analyses are legitimate tools, but not when the life and/or safety of the consumer is in question. There is nothing unsatisfactory about the analysis itself, but its application is disturbing. To put a monetary value on someone’s life is not right. It is an unfortunate part of the automotive industry’s cost analyses, but it is not a normal thought process had by average folk.

Kant would label this situation irrational. Because the Ford Mord Motor Company made an immoral decision Kant would consider it to be irrational because no one who is immoral is rational. Ford had the responsibility to its customers to put out a product that would not kill them if they were ever rear-ended. Ford had the responsibility to recall its vehicles and repair them.

I do not feel as though it would have made a moral difference if the savings had been passed on to the customer. It was a dangerous product and no one in their right mind would buy a car that might explode upon impact just to save some money. If Ford had divulged the issue to its customers they would have run for the hills. Pintos would have remained on the lots until Ford reinforced the gas tanks and proved that they were safe. That clearly was not an option for Ford who sought desperately to compete with cheap imports.

If Ford prescribed to a philosophy that said safety concerns need not be addressed if they are not cost effective it would be unacceptable. This belief cannot and should not be universalized. There are a great deal of companies who treat humans as an end in themselves and I personally do not agree with that rationale.

Every life is sacred and not just a monetary value. The manufacturers would be in a very different frame of mind if the roles were reversed and they were in the place of the consumer. I think many businesses have improved in that regard, but people are still viewed as an end and are assigned a monetary value.

Ford should have been found guilty in the Ulrich case. They knowingly allowed a dangerous vehicle onto the roads and should have been punished for it. GM was just as responsible for Shannon Moseley’s death as Ford was for the death of those in its Pinto. Both companies acknowledged a possible issue with the gas tanks on the vehicles but did nothing to alleviate the issues until after people were injured or killed.

GM and Ford have both implemented technology in their vehicles to address the rollover issues. In addition to the technology there is a warning on the sun visor addressing the possibility of a rollover during high speed maneuvers. The issue with Ford was that it was a combination of the vehicle and the tires. This complicates the issue.

Of course the companies should be morally responsible for the deaths of those in their products but there are a number of contributing factors that would make pursuit of a legal responsibility difficult. Automakers have done a lot to make SUV’s safer. More are car-based now which lowers their center of gravity lessening the possibility of a rollover. That paired with technology and greater driver awareness has increased the safety of SUV’s. Yes, it is wrong for a business to sell a product that is not as safe as it could be, especially with modern technology.

I do not feel that is is wrong to sell a vehicle that is less safe than others on the market. That is why there are standards in place. Some people shop based on looks or performance while others shop based on safety records. That is one nice thing about a free market. There are limits to how far an automaker has to go in the name of safety. One can load a car with every safety device possible, but that safety equipment has to be cost effective. Some cannot afford a very expensive car with a top safety record so automakers have to make safe cars at every price point.

Conclusions Ford made a grievous error in releasing an unsafe vehicle that claimed many lives over its production run. This was both immoral and unethical of the company to do. Knowing fully that your product might explode if rear-ended and doing nothing to solve the problem is horrible. Assigning a monetary value to the death or severe injury to determine whether or not to fix the problem is reprehensible. That is an unfortunate reality in the automotive industry and a calculated risk that every manufacturer takes.

Thankfully we have organizations like NHTSA that crash test vehicles and release full reports on their findings. A recent event like the Pinto is the Chevy Volt. Several days after the crash tests the vehicles caught fire due to a leak in the battery coolant. GM did the responsible thing and offered to repair the vehicles currently on the roads. Ford should have done the same thing and did not.

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Ford Pinto – A Car Manufactured by Ford Motor. (2016, Sep 05). Retrieved from