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The Ford Pinto

Thomas Donaldson & Al Gini, Case Studies in BE, 4th edt.


Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1996, pp. 207-214

10 aug 1978: tragic accident rutier pe Highway 33, lng Goshen, Indiana. Surorile Judy i
Lynn Ulrich (18, 16 ani) i verioara lor Donna Ulrich (18 ani) staionau pe osea n Fordul
lor Pinto, model 1973. Au fost izbite din spate de ctre un van, care circula cu min 50 mile
pe or. Rezervorul de benzin, aflat n spatele mainii, s-a spart, maina a explodat i cele
trei fete au ars de vii.
Pentru prima oar, compania Ford a fost acuzat de ucidere din culp (reckless homicide).
Procesul a durat 20 de sptmni i judge Harold Staffeldt a explicat juriului c Ford poate
fi condamnat numai dac se poate dovedi c Ford se face vinovat de nesocotirea clar,
contient i nejustificabil a suferinei ce poate s rezulte (din aciunile sale), aceast
nesocotire implicnd o abatere substanial de la standardele de conduit acceptabile.
Juriul a respins acuzaia. Fraza cheie asupra creia s-a purtat btlia dintre acuzare i
aprare a fost standarde acceptabile. Se poate spune c Ford a ales n mod deliberat i
cinic profitul n dauna siguranei n proiectarea i plasamentul rezervorului? n timp ce
Elkhart County prosecutor Michael Cosentino i chief Ford attorney James Neal se luptau
dramatic asupra acestei chestiuni, tot mediul american de afaceri atepta cu sufletul la
gur verdictul, care putea s aib urmri foarte drastice asupra corporate responsibility
and product liability.
Antecedentele procesului sunt semnificative. Controversele privind Pinto au nceput un
an mai devreme. n 1977, Mark Dowie, general manager al revistei Mother Jones
publicase un articol, intitulat Pinto Madness, n care acuza Ford de faptul c pusese n
circulaie o main nesigur, n care sute de oameni suferiser n mod inutil arsuri mortale
sau foarte grave, cu urmri ireparabile. n articol se afirma c:
sub presiunea concurenei VW, Ford lansase modelul Pinto n mare grab
inginerii de la Ford constataser n timpul testelor premergtoare produciei de serie c
rezervorul, plasat n spate, era extrem de vulnerabil, explodnd foarte uor n urma unor
ciocniri din spate
deoarece linia de asamblare era deja pus la punct n momentul descoperirii acestui
neajuns, oficialii de la Ford au decis ca maina s intre n producie cu acest defect, dei
Ford deinea patentul unui tip de rezervor mult mai sigur, folosit la modelul Capri
n urmtorii 8 ani, Ford fcuse un lobby extrem de eficient pentru amnarea unor
reglementri guvernamentale mai severe, care ar fi obligat compania s nlocuiasc
rezervorul vulnerabil
ntr-o estimare prudent, accidentele Pinto cauzaser 500 de mori din cauza arsurilor,
oameni care nu ar fi murit dac mainile lor nu ar fi luat foc; cifra ar fi putut atinge ns i
valoarea 900.
chestiunea devenise att de penibil pt Ford, nct agenia sa de publicitate, Walter
Thomson, eliminase ultima fraz dintr-o reclam radio, care suna astfel: Pinto leaves you
with that warm feeling
Ford tie c Pinto este a fire trap, i totui a pltit milioane pentru a rezolva litigiile n
afara tribunalelor i este gata s plteasc alte milioane pentru lobby mpotriva unor
reglementri de securitate mai stricte
cu 0.5 milioane de maini scoase de pe band anual, Pinto este cel mai vndut
subcompact din America, iar profiturile companiei sunt imense
finalmente, n 1977 Ford a introdus cteva modificri, puin costisitoare, pt a satisface
noile reglementri, pe care a reuit s le amne vreme de 8 ani, datorit unei cost-benefit
analysis, care fixeaz un pre n dolari pe o via de om.

La cteva sptmni, Ford emite un comunicat de pres, referindu-se la date statistice


total diferite:
Dowie susine c peste 3000 de oameni mor anual din cauza incendiilor auto; potrivit
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Ford deine 24% din mainile de
pe oselele americane, dar 42% din accidentele mortale din cauza exploziei rezervorului.
Bazndu-se pe datele furnizate de Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Ford
afirm c n 1975 s-au nregistrat 848 de decese cauzate de incendii auto, din care numai
13 Pinto; n 1976, au fost numai 22 Pinto din 943, ceea ce arat c decesele Pinto
reprezint doar 1,9% din totalul accidentelor; n plus, doar 50% din accidentele nregistrate
de FARS au fost provocate de ciocniri din spate.
Ford admite c primele modele Pinto nu corespundea testelor de ciocnire din spate cu
20 mph, dar dezminte c, din cauza acestui fapt, modelul ar fi fost mai nesigur dect alte
modele similare, care nici ele nu satisfceau acest criteriu la vremea respectiv. Ford i-a
fixat singur acest standard la vremea respectiv, cnd nu era cerut de reglemetrile
guvernamentale i n fiecare an a adus mbuntiri pt satisfacerea acestui standard. De
altminteri, ntotdeauna standardele autoimpuse de Ford au fost mai severe dect cele
guvernamentale.
Este, prin urmare, nerezonabil i nedrept s pretinzi c o main este oarecum
nesigur pt c nu satisface nite standarde superioare, introduse ulterior, pe baza unor
inovaii tehnologice introduse la modelele mbuntite.
Dowie contraatac, artnd c Ford a dus un lobby foarte activ pt a nu se introduce
reglementarea 20 mph rear-impact, deoarece avea linia de asamblare instalat ($ 200
mil), iar introducerea reglementrii ar fi nsemnat pierderi foarte serioase de reproiectare i
modificare a liniei tehnologice. Diveri specialiti susin c proiectarea a fost un adevrat
dezastru tehnic, deoarece Ford avea patentul unui alt tip de rezervor, mult mai sigur, dar a
preferat aceast soluie, total iresponsabil.
Cea mai controversat chestiune a fost analiza costuri-beneficii, intitulat Fatalities
Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires, i realizat de J. C. Echlod,
Director of Automotive Safety de la Ford. Acest studiu a convins Ford i urmrea s
conving i guvernul federal c o mbuntire tehnic n valoare de $ 11 pe main, care
ar fi prevenit ruperea rezervorului, nu era avantajoas pt societate.
Benefits
Economii:
180 de mori ari, 180 rniri prin arsuri grave, 2100 de vehicule arse
Cost/unitate: $ 200.000 pe mort, $ 67.000 pe rnit, $ 700 pe vehicul
Beneficiu total: 180 X ($200.000) + 180 X ($67.000) + 2100 X ($700) = $ 49.5 mil
Costs
Vnzri:
11 mil. maini, 1.5 mil light trucks
Cost unitate: $11 pe main, $11 pe truck
Total cost:
11 mil X ($11) + 1.5 mil X ($11) = $137 mil.
1971 Costs
Componente
Future productivity losses
Direct
Indirect
Medical costs

$132.000
41.300

Hospital
Other
Property damage
Insurance Administration
Legal and court
Employer losses
Victim's pain and suffering
Funeral
Assets (lost consumtion)
Miscellaneous
TOTAL PER FATALITY

700
425
1500
4700
3000
1000
10.000
900
5000
200
$200.000

Dowie: nu a reuit s afle cum s-a stabilit suma de $10.000 pt pain and suffering. n
realitate, nu Ford, ci guvernul federal stabilise aceast cifr, iar analiza cost-beneficii
realizat de Ford s-a bazat pe ea.
n plus, Dowie obiecteaz c nu au fost luate n calcul dect decesel, dar persoanele cu
arsuri grave, rmase n via, sunt excluse din calcul, acestea fiind de 9 ori mai
numeroase dect decesele.
Dowie pretinde c este n posesia unor informaii confideniale din interiorul Ford, care
atest c, n realitate, costurile introducerii unei cmi de cauciuc n rezervor ar fi fost cu
mult mai mici, de numai $5.8 pe vehicul.
Concluzie Dowie: n loc s fac o mbuntire de $11, ori s instaleze o cma de
cauciuc de $5, ori s dea mcar posibilitatea cumprtorului de a suporta costul
suplimentar n cunotin de cauz, Ford a preferat s amne reglementarea timp de 8
ani. n acest timp, mii de oameni au ars de vii, zeci de mii au suferit arsuri grave i
milioane de vehicule nesigure, produse pn la reglementare, vor continua s circule i s
omoare oameni.
Nu este o strategie specific numai companiei Ford, ci tuturor productorilor de
vehicule, inclusiv pe cile ferate sau avioane.
Ford a pltit milioane de dolari daune n urma unor decizii judectoreti sau a unor
aranjamente n afara tribunalului. n cele din urm, Ford a decis s nu mai ajung la
tribunal cu nici un caz de incendiu, pt c juraii sunt prea sentimentali i se nmoaie cnd
vd fotografiile cu trupuri carbonizate. Ford a preferat s aranjeze lucrurile i s plteasc
sume considerabile, numai pt c acestea erau oricum mai mici dect modificarea liniei de
asamblare.
13 martie 1980: Elkhart County jury found Ford not guilty of criminal homicide in the Ulrich
case.
n pledoaria final, Ford attorney Neal precizeaz:
Ford putea s stea deoparte de piaa automobilelor mici, obinnd profituri mai mari din
vnzarea de auto mari. Ford s-a aventurat pe piaa auto mici pt a contracare importurile, pt
a crea locuri de munc n America i pt a-i satisface acionarii.
Pinto corespundea tuturor standardelor federale, fiind comparabil cu toate
subcompactele din 1973
Inginerii Ford au considerat c este o main bun, sigur, cumprnd-o pt ei i
familiile lor
Ford a fcut tot ceea ce era posibil i necesar pt a retrage Pinto dup ce i s-a ordonat
de ctre NHTSA
Highway 33 era greit proiectat, iar fetele staionau n momentul n care au fost lovite
din spate de ctre un van de peste 1 ton, cu cel puin 50 mph, condiii n care orice alt
main ar fi pit exact acelai lucru.

Prosecutor Cosentino i-a slbit cazul din momentul n care judge Staffeldt nu a admis ca
probe n proces o serie de documente ale Ford, anterioare anului 1873, care dovedeau c
inginerii de la Ford erau contieni la vremea respectiv de riscurile rezervorului adoptat pt
a ctiga spaiu n portbagaj i pt a economisi bani, precum i de faptul c rezervorul Capri
era mult mai sigur.
Richard Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago arat c un proces penal nu
avea nici o ans de ctig din partea acuzrii, deoarece acuzarea ar fi trebuit s probeze
o intenie criminal din partea Ford. Mai mult succes ar fi avut un proces civil. Analogie:
cineva trage cu puca ntr-o cprioar, dar nimerete un alt vntor, neintenionat; nu
poate fi acuzat penal, dar este dator s plteasc daune, stabilite de un proces civil. Or, pe
lng faptul c e greu de atribuit o intenionalitate unei corporaii, n cazul de fa nu se
poate spune c Ford a procedat cu intenii criminale. n orice industrie se fac compromisuri
ntre costuri i securitatea produsului. Ford putea s construiasc un tanc, dar cine l-ar fi
cumprat?
Iar acuzarea i penalizarea unor oficiali de la Ford nu se putea face, din lips de probe.
Proiectantul ef a declarat c preocuparea sa a fost s dispun rezervorul ct mai departe
de pasageri, ceea ce a i fcut. Pe de alt parte, muli dintre salariaii de la Ford au
cumprat i folosit Pinto.
Nici un proces civil nu ar fi avut anse mari de ctig, deoarece calculele fcute de Ford
erau standard i erau aplicate aceleai formule n ntreaga industrie.
VELASQUEZ, 6th edn, p.60-61

THE FORD PINTO CASE


The scandal and the trial
On August 10, 1978, a tragic automobile accident occurred on U.S. Highway 33 near
Goshen, Indiana. Sisters Judy and Lynn Ulrich (ages 18 and 16, respectively) and their
cousin Donna Ulrich (age 18) were struck from the rear in their 1973 Ford Pinto by a van.
The gas tank of the Pinto ruprured, the car burst into flames and the three teen-agers were
burned to death.
Subsequently an Elkhart County grand jury returned a criminal homicide charge against
Ford, the first ever against an American corporation. During the following 20-week trial,
Judge Harold R. Staffeld advised the jury that Ford should be convicted of reckless
homicide if it were shown that the company had engaged in plain, conscious and
unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result (from its actions) and the disregard
involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. The key phrase
around which the trial hinged, of course, is acceptable standards. Did Ford knowingly
and recklessly choose profit over safety in the design and placement of the Pinto's gas
tank? Elkhart County prosecutor Michael A. Cosentino and chief Ford attorney James F.
Neal battled dramatically over this issue in a rural Indiana courthouse. Meanwhile,
American business anxiously awaited the verdict which could send warning ripples through
board rooms across the nation concerning corporate responsibility and product liability.
The Pinto controversy
In 1977 the magazine Mother Jones broke a story by Mark Dowie, general manager of
Mother Jones business operations, accusing Ford of knowingly putting on the road an
unsafe car the Pinto in which hundreds of people have needlessly suffered burn
deaths and even more have been scarred and disfigured due to burns. In his article Pinto
Madness Dowie charges that:

Fighting strong competition from VW for the lucrative small-car market, the Ford Motor
Company rushed the Pinto into production in much less than the usual time.
Ford engineers discovered in pre-production crash tests that rear-end collisions would
rupture the Pinto's fuel system extremely easily. Because assembly-line machinery
was already tooled when engineers found this defect, top Ford officials decided to
manufacture the car anyway exploding gas tank and all even though Ford owned
the patent on a much safer gas tank.
For more than eight years afterwards, Ford successfully lobbied, with extraordinary
vigor and some blatant lies, against a key government safety standard that would have
forced the company to change the Pinto's fire-prone gas tank.
By conservative estimates Pinto crashes have caused 500 burn deaths to people who
would not have been seriously injured if the car had not burst into flames. The figure
could be as high as 900. Burning Pintos have become such an embarrassment to Ford
that its advertising agency, J. Walter Thomson, dropped a line from the ending of a
radio spot that read Pinto leaves you with that warm feeling.
Ford knows that the Pinto is a firetrap, yet it has paid out millions to settle damage
suits out of court, and it is prepared to spen millions more lobbying against safety
standards. With a half million cars rolling off the assembly lines each year, Pinto is the
biggest-selling subcompact in America, and the company's operating profit on the car
is fantastic. Finally, in 1977, new Pinto models have incorporated a few minor

alterations necessary to meet that federal standard Ford managed to hold off for eight
years. Why did the company delay so long making these minimal, inexpensive
improvements?
Ford waited eight years because its internal cost-benefit analysis, which places a
dollar value on human life, said it wasn't profitable to make the changes sooner.

The Ford's defense


Several weeks after Dowie's press conference, Ford issued a news release, countering
points made in the Mother Jones article.
Their statistical studies significantly conflicted with each other. For example, Dowie
states that more than 3000 people were burning to death yearly in auto fires; he claims
that, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
consultant, although Ford makes 24% of the cars on American Roads, these cars
account for 42% of the collision-ruptured fuel tanks. Ford, on the other, uses statistics
from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) maintained by the government
NHTSA to defend itself, claiming that in 1975 there were 848 deaths related to fireassociated passenger-car accidents and only 13 of these involved Pintos; in 1976,
Pintos accounted for only 22 out of 943. These statistics imply that Pintos were
involved in only 1.9% of such accidents, and Pintos constitute about 1.9% of the total
registered passenger cars. Furthermore, fewer than half of those Pintos cited in the
FARS study were struck in the rear. Ford concludes from this and other studies that the
Pinto was never an unsafe car and has not been involved in some 70 burn deaths
annually as Mother Jones claims.
Ford admits that early model Pintos did not meet rear-impact tests at 20 mph but
denies that this implies that they were unsafe compared to other cars of that type and
era. In fact, its tests were conducted, according to Ford, some with experimental
rubber bladders to protect the gas tank, in order to determine how best to have their
future cars meet a 20 mph rear-collision standard which Ford itself set as an internal
performance goal. The government at that time had no such standard. Ford also points
out that in every model year Pinto met or surpassed the government's own standards,
and it simply is unreasonable and unfair to contend that a car is somehow unsafe if it
does not meet standards proposed for future years or embody the technological
improvements that are introduced in later model years.
New charges against Ford
Mother Jones, on the other hand, presents a different view of the situation. If Ford was so
concerned about rear-impact safety, why did it delay the federal government's attempts to
impose standards? Dowie gives the following answer:
The particular regulation involved here was Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard
301. Ford picked portions of Standard 201 for strong opposition way back in 1968
when the Pinto was still in the blueprint stage. The intent of 301, and the 300 series
that folloed it, was to protect drivers and passengers after a crash occurs. Without
question the worst post-crash hazard is fire. Standard 301 originally proposed that all
cars should be able to withstand a fixed barrier impact of 20 mph (that is, running into
a wall at that speed) without losing fuel.

When the standard was proposed, Ford engineers pulled their crash-test results out of
their files. The front ends of most cars were no problem with minor alterations they

could stand the impact without losing fuel. We were already working on the front end,
Ford engineer Dick Kimble admitted. We knew we could meet the test on the front
end. But with the Pinto particularly, a 20 mph rear-end standard meant redesihning
the entire rear end of the car. With the Pinto scheduled for production in August 1970,
and with $200 million worth of tools in place, adoption of this standard would have
created a minor financial disaster. So Standard 301 was targeted for delay, and with
some assistance from its industry associates, Ford succeeded beyond its wildest
expectations: the standard was not adopted until the 1977 model year.
Ford's tactics were successful, according to Dowie, not only due to their extremely clever
lobbying, which became the envy of lobbysts all over Washington, but also because of the
pro-industry stance of NHTSA itself.
Furthermore, it is not at all clear that the Pinto was as safe as other comparable cars with
regard to the positioning of its gas tank. Unlike the gas tank in the Capri which rode over
the rear axle, a saddle-type fuel tank on which Ford owned the patent, the Pinto tank was
placed just behind the rear bumper.

Dr. Leslie Ball, the retired safety chief for the NASA manned space program and a
founder of the International Society of Reliability Engineers: The release to production
of the Pinto was the most reprehensible decision in the history of American
engineering. Ball can name more than 40 European and Japanese models in the
Pinto price and weight range with safer gas-tank positioning.
Los Angeles auto safety expert Byron Bloch: It's a catastrophic blunder. Ford made an
extremely irresponsible decision when they placed such a weak tank in such a
ridiculous location in such a soft rear end. It's almost designed to blow up
premeditated.

The crucial point: a cynical cost-benefit analysis


Perhaps the most intriguing and controversial is the cost-benefit analysis study that Ford
did entitled Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires, released
by J. C. Echlod, Director of Automotive Safety for Ford. This study apparently convinced
Ford and was intended to convince the federal government that a technical improvement
costing $11 per car which would have prevented gas tanks from rupturing so easily was
not cost-effective for society. The costs and benefits are broken down in the following way:
Benefits
Savings:

180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, 2,100


burned vehicles
Unit Cost:
$200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, $700 per
vehicle
Total Benefit: 180 X ($200,000) + 180 X ($67,000) + 2,100 X ($700)
= $49.5 million

Costs
Sales:
Unit Cost:
Total Cost:

11 million cars, 1.5 million light trucks


$11 per car, $11 per truck
11,000,000 X ($11) + 1,500,000 X ($11) = $137 million

The most controversial aspect proved to be the way Ford's accountants determined the
total cost of a human life as about $200,000.

Component
Future Productivity Losses
Direct
Indirect
Medical Costs
Hospital
Other
Property Damage
Insurance Administration
Legal and Court
Employer Losses
Victim's Pain and Suffering
Funeral
Assets (Lost Consumption)
Miscellaneous
TOTAL PER FATALITY

1971 Costs
$132,000
41,300
700
425
1,500
4,700
3,000
1,000
10,000
900
5,000
200
$200,725

Mother Jones reports it could not find anYbody whou could explain how the $10,000 figure
for pain and sufferin had been arrived at.
Although Ford does not mention this point in its News Release defense, it might have
replied that it was the federal government, not Ford, that set the figure for a burn death.
Ford simply carried out a cost-benefit analysis based on that figure. Mother Jones,
however, in addition to insinuating that there was industry-agency (NHTSA) collusion,
argues taht the $200,000 figure was arrived at under intense pressure from the auto
industry to use cost-benefit analysis in determining regulations.
Mother Jones also questions Ford's estimate of burn injuries: All independent experts
estimate that for each person who dies by an auto fire, many more are left with charred
hands, faces and limbs. The true ratio obviously throws the company's calculations
way off.
Finally, Mother Jones claims to have obtained confidential Ford documents which
Ford did not send to Washington, showing that crash fires could be largely prevented
by installing a rubber bladder inside the gas tank for only $5.08 per car, considerably
less than the $11 per car Ford originally claimed was required to improve crashworthiness.
Ford has paid millions of dollars in Pinto jury trials and out-of-court settlements,
especially the latter. Mother Jones quotes Al Schlechter in Ford's Washington office as
saying: We'll never go to a jury again. Not in a fire case. Juries are just too
sentimental. They see those charred remains and forget the evidence. No sir, we'll
settle.
Instead of making the $11 improvement, installing the $5.08 bladder, or even giving the
consumer the right to choose the additional cost for added safety, Ford continued to delay
the federal government for eight years in establishing mandatory rear-impact standards. In
the meantime thousands of people were burning to death and tens of thousands more
were being badly burned and disfigured for life, tragedies many of which could have been
prevented for only a slight cost per vehicle. Furthermore, the delay also meant that millions
of new unsafe vehicles went on the road, vehicles that will be crashing, leaking fuel and
incinerating people well into the 1980s.
Unfortunately, Dowie claims, the Pinto is not an isolated case of corporate malpractice in
the auto industry. Neither is Ford a lone sinner. There probably isn't a car on the road
without a safety hazard known to its manufacturer. Furthermore, cost-valuing human life is
not used by Ford alone. Ford was just the only company careless enough to let such an

embarrassing calculation slip into public records. The process of willfully trading lives for
profits is built into corporate capitalism.