Managing Product Safety: The Ford Pinto

2547 words - 10 pages

Facts

Around 1967 Ford Motor Company decided to design a small size car called the Ford Pinto. The automobile industry at the time (and still is) was highly competitive and very cyclical. In the late 1960's, America began to see the influences of foreign vehicles. Prior to that, cars were bigger and less fuel efficient, allowing the Japanese to gain substantial market share with the smaller, more economical vehicles, and the need to react to this pressure was even greater at Ford. Even though they held the number two spot in market share behind General Motors, they only held a 22.3% market share compared to General Motors at 46.4%, a very significant difference.

There was strong competition for Ford in the American small-car market from Volkswagen and several Japanese companies in the 1960's. In order for Ford to stay competitive and fight off competition, they rushed its newest car the Ford Pinto into production in much less time than is usually required to develop a car. The regular time to produce an automobile was 43 months; Ford took only 38 months. Before production, the engineers at Ford discovered a major flaw in the cars' design. In nearly all rear-end crash test collisions the Pinto's fuel system would rupture extremely easily. Safety was not a major concern to Ford at the time of the development of the Pinto. Lee Iacocca, who was in charge of the development of the Pinto, had specifications for the design of the car that were uncompromising. These specifications were that "the Pinto was not to weigh an ounce over 2,000 pounds and not cost a cent over $2,000." (1) Any modifications even if they did provide extra safety for consumers that brought the car closer to the Iacocca's limits were rejected.

On August 9, 1977, a magazine called Mother Jones, a self-styled radical magazine, featured an article called "Pinto Madness." The magazine cited Ford with secret documents which, according to the author Mark Dowie, proved that Ford had known for eight years that the Pinto was a "firetrap." (1) Ford management knew the overall effect of the Mother Jones article, which was heavily based on testimony of a former Ford engineer, would be very damaging.

Word got out about the Pinto gas tank problems, and soon this became a huge press-related issue for Ford. Management at Ford decided to do a risk/benefit analysis, but it determined that the amount of money made off the car was higher then the cost to pay the liability to those that got injured or killed. In the determination, management decided profit outweighed human life. The issues began with the lack of care Ford put towards the engineering process in pre-development, and the lack of conscience exhibited by the manufacturer when confronted with defective obstacles which could have delayed the production and cost millions of dollars, which in their mind was not an option.

The purpose of introducing the Ford Pinto was to gain market share in a highly competitive compact arena...

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