A Utilitarian Argument in the Ford Pinto Case
In 1971 Ford Motor Company decided they wanted to create a compact car that could compete with the other Japanese manufactured cars. It rushed from its inception to its actual production. In the end, these cars proved to be one of the most dangerous ever produced because of their extreme flammability in instance of rear impact collision. The decision by Ford to not recall any of its cars, and not fix design flaws, conceal the truth of their mistake and roll the dice future incoming lawsuits, damages and loss of human life is the one that I will dissect. I will show how this action uses the “greatest happiness and greatest pleasure” form of Utilitarianism and the true moral flaws that it exposes. Many parties were affected is this case including the Ford Motor Company employees, the shareholders, the company owners, and every single consumer or person who not only purchased the vehicles but also drove in them including the ones who were injured, burned or even killed, and not to be forgotten, the rest of the whole world. Actually no one escapes the ripple effect of this decision. Ford Motor Company, led by President Lee Iacocca, discovered that during the sped up engineering and production process it had created the fuel tank vulnerable to fiery rear crashes because of the layout of the car. Ford realized this but made its decision to not recall the cars based of their own company formulated utilitarian cost benefit analysis and fear of negative company effects. Ford Motor Company weighed the risk in terms of how much it would cost the company to pay for damages and loss of any human life, which was put into a numeric dollar value by the National Highway Travel Safety Administration (NHTSA) of $200,000 per life and multiplied it by the number of accidents it estimated would occur from the flaw. Ford Motor Company calculated that the cost of compensation for death, injury and damaged cars was significantly less than the cost of recalling all the vehicles with the rear design flaw. Basically they thought they would save money, keep up their shareholder price, and have less damage to all involved by not doing anything except “taking it on the chin” with regards to predicted accidents caused by the accident prone fuel tank. They also assumed that if they made a recall, their share price would plummet and shareholders would lose money, and that possibly employees would lose jobs. Ford Motor company did a really did a neat job of estimating life values and social components cost of property damage, insurance costs, legal fees, employer losses, funeral, assets and value of each human life in society. They even concluded they would need to pay 87 million dollars less by doing no recalls and just paying for these other future damage costs. However there is a dominant if not obvious consideration that carries more importance than just economics and Ford’s revenue. First of all, consider the possible damage to the company’s reputation created by media and public when having multiple accident from the same automobile model. The company could lose big from media and public backlash. Second, in line with utilitarian factors, Ford calculates all the collateral damage in terms of money and nothing else. Money creates pleasure for some, and pain for others. Ford calculates money as a positive value, and that is all. It seems really ideal that when creating a calculus in utilitarian ethics to think in terms of dollars because dollars carry a numeric value anyway! The decision not to recall the cars and let the accidents occur loses utilitarian units of value in terms of obvious life factors. It is also so narrow minded that I would consider it not rational. First, it is focused way too much on numeric dollar values when considering human injuries, company futures, and life lost. The decision really applies Jeremy...
Cited: DeGeorge, Richard T. Business Ethics 7th Edition. New Jersey Pearson, 2010. Print.
Hoffman, W. Michael. “The Ford Pinto.” Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality. Ed. W. Michael Hoffman, Robert E. Frederick, and Mark S. Schwartz. New York NY. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Boyce, Daniel “The Flaw of Utlitarianism: The Ford Pinto Case” Business Ethics IB. 15 April, 2010. Web. 11 April 2014.
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