Ford Pinto

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Amy Bruney
Marketing Ethics

I. Introduction

II. Literature Review

III. Recommendations & Implications for Marketing Managers

IV. Conclusion

V. Sources

“For seven years the Ford Motor Company sold cars in which it knew hundreds of people would needlessly burn to death.”
Mark Dowie, Author of Pinto Madness (8)

One of the biggest automotive news stories in the latter part of the 1970’s dealt with tales of exploding Ford Pintos and the considerable awards civil court juries were presenting to victims of accidents involving the cars.

Ford produced the Pinto automobile from 1971 to 1980. Initially the car sold well, but a defect in the early models made Pintos prone to leaking fuel and catching on fire after relatively low-speed, rear-end collisions. The Pinto’s gas tank was located behind the rear axle. A rear-end collision of about 28 miles per hour or more would crush the car’s rear end, causing the tank to split and the filling pipe to break loose. It had been proven that spilled fuel and sparks from the crash caused fires that produced fatalities or serious burns.

Was Ford aware of the potential problems in the framework of the Pinto? Was there an easy, inexpensive way to fix these problems? Was the Pinto fire controversy a lot of hype, or had Ford truly discounted human lives in order to save a few dollars? If Ford management really placed marketing considerations above safety, was that objective ethical and are members of management morally responsible for the preventable Pinto fire deaths?

In the following paper, several sources will be used to enlighten the reader as to the controversy surrounding the Ford Pinto, facts and myths, and how Ford chose to market the Pinto in light of the knowledge they held regarding the flawed engineering makeup of the automobile.

Ford introduced the Pinto in the 1971 model year as competition to the small, affordable cars of the period, like the Chevrolet Vega and the AMC Gremlin. The Pinto sold well, but it had safety issues, specifically the fact that its gas tank easily ruptured and caught on fire in rear-end collisions.

Although Ford had access to a new design which would decrease the possibility of the Ford Pinto from exploding, the company chose not to implement the design, which would have cost approximately $11 per car, even though it had done an analysis showing that the new design would result in 189 less deaths. The company defended itself on the grounds that it used the accepted risk/benefit analysis to determine if the monetary costs of making the change were greater than the societal benefit. Based on the numbers Ford used, the cost would have been $137 million versus the $49.5 million price tag put on the deaths, injuries, and car damages. Ford felt justified not implementing the design change. (1)

The main controversy surrounding the Ford Pinto case was The Ford Motor Company’s choices made during the development to compromise safety for efficiency and profit maximization. More specifically, it was Ford’s decision to use the cost/benefit analysis to make production decisions that translated into lost lives. During the initial production and testing phase, Ford set “limits for 2000” for the Pinto. That meant the car was not to exceed $2000 in cost or 2000 pounds in weight. This set tough limitations on the production team. After the basic design was complete, crash testing had begun. The results of the crash testing revealed that when struck from the rear at speeds of approximately 30 miles per hour or above, the Pinto’s gas tank ruptured. The gas tank was positioned according to industry standard at the time, between the rear bumper and the rear axle, but studs protruding from the rear axle would puncture the gas tank. Upon impact, the fuel filler pipe would break, resulting in spilled gasoline. The Pinto basically turned into a death trap. Ford crash tested a...
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