Ford Pinto Trial
The objective of this paper is to investigate what led to the Ford pinto criminal trial and the impact that it had. What led up to the criminal indictment of Ford, the trial itself, the verdict of the trial will be discussed. The Impact that this trial has had on the Automobile industry will also be investigated.
In the late 1960's there was strong competition from VW and several Japanese companies in the small car market. Due to this competition Ford hurried the design of their small car, the Pinto, to market. Since the car was rushed into market and the specifications for the car were that it weigh under 2000 pounds and cost less than $2000, safety was not a major concern in the design of the pinto.1 In pre-production testing Ford found that the gas tank was likely to leak and possibly burst into flames when it is struck from behind. Internal documents show that eleven of the tests averaging thirty one miles per hour were performed before the Pinto went into production. In only three of the eleven tests did the fuel tank in the Pinto not rupture. In one test a plastic wiffle ball was placed between the front of the gas tank between the tank and the differential housing so that four bolts would not tear into the tank. In the next successful test a piece of steel was placed between the fuel tank and the bumper. In the third test the fuel tank was lined with a rubber liner. Although Ford found that fuel tank rupture was likely to happen they decided to go ahead with this design because assembly line machinery was all ready tooled and they concluded that it was not cost efficient to add an $5.08 rubber bladder to the car cost to the car to remedy the design flaw, instead they determined that it would be cheaper to settle or fight any civil law suits rather then remedy this problem.3 In their cost analysis, that would have improved fuel tank safety for their whole line of cars and trucks, they concluded that there would be 180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, and 2100 burned vehicles at a cost of $200,000 per burn death, $67,000 per serious burn injury, and $700 per burned vehicle which came up to a total cost of $49.5 million. The estimated cost to prevent leakage in their cars and trucks was $11 dollars each. So with sales of 11 million cars and 1.5 million light trucks the total cost to improve fuel tank safety would be $137 million.3 It was not until 1977 that Ford felt it needed to change the design of the Pinto in order to remedy these fuel tank problems.2
Following numerous lawsuits filed by burn victims accusing Ford of defectively designing the Ford Pinto's fuel tank the issue finally got national attention. In the 1977 September/October issue of Mother Jones there was an article written by Mark Dowie named "Pinto Madness". This article told of Ford's decision to sell a car in which they knew hundreds of people would be burnt to death. To make sure that this information did not just stay in the...