There are several different incidents that have occurred involving Ford Pintos. Examples include Sandra Gillespie traveling with a young boy named Robbie Carlton on a Minneapolis highway, being rear-ended by a car traveling at 28 miles per hour. (1) Another incident is Lily Gray traveling with thirteen-year old Richard Grimshaw when a vehicle struck them at roughly30 miles per hour. (2) However, I have decided to focus on the case I found the most evidence into. It involved two sisters, and their cousin driving down U.S. Highway 33 near Goshen, Indiana on August 10, 1978. Their 1973 Ford Pinto was struck in the rear by a van, and the event that follows was the same in each of the cases. (3) The gas tanks of all the Pintos burst into flames and the passengers in the car were eventually burned to death. As stated earlier, I have decided to focus on the crash involving the three girls (though the events that follow are almost identical to that of the other tragedies), and responding to the crash of the three girls, the Elkhart County grand jury returned a "criminal homicide charge against Ford, the first ever against an American corporation." (4)
An investigation into the crash and explosion was done by Mark Dowie in the magazine titled Mother Jones. Dowie made several key points into why such an explosion could have happened. He landed on four main points. The Ford Motor Company was rushed into the production of the Ford Pinto in much less than the usual time due to competition from Volkswagen in the small-car market. Ford engineers discovered that rear-ended crashes involving the Pinto would result in a rupturing of the vehicle's fuel system, yet officials decided to manufacture the car anyway. Ford lobbied against a government safety standard which would have forced the company to change the gas tank. And lastly, Ford waited eight years to make the change because it was not profitable to make the changes sooner. (5) Ford of course had to respond to these allegations that were placed against them and they did so by openly admitting that the Pinto did not meet rear-impact tests at 20 miles per hour, but "denies that this implies that they were unsafe compared with other cars of that type and era." (6) Ford argued that the government had no standard at that time to protect the gas tank and that every year, the Pinto either met or exceeded the government's standards. In Mother Jones, they quickly presented an entirely different view of the situation, questioning why Ford then went and delayed the federal government's attempt to impose such standard. (7) The most eye-opening fact however between Mother Jones and Ford has to have been that a technological improvement costing only $11 per car would have prevented the gas tanks from rupturing so easily. However, when looking at the standard cost/benefit analysis of Ford, one could easily see that no such productions were never to be made. (7) Mother Jones then went a step even further. They discovered, through obtaining "confidential" Ford documents that crash fires could be prevented by installing a rubber bladder inside the gas tank not for $11, but for a considerably small amount of $5.08. (8) Instead of making these adjustments and installing the rubber bladder, Ford, according to Mother Jones, continued to delay the federal government for eight years in establishing mandatory rear-impact standards. These delay Ford created meant that millions more of the unsafe Pintos went onto the road. These vehicles would be "crashing, leaking fuel and incinerating people well into the 1980s." (9) Amidst all these accusations, Ford has been forced to invest millions of dollars in all of these Pinto trials and paying for out-of-court settlements.
On March 13, 1980, the Elkhart County jury found Ford not guilty of criminal homicide in the Ulrich case. (10) The jury argued that Ford met the standard fuel-system in the Pinto for any federal, state, or local government. The vehicle was comparable to other vehicles that were created in the same decade. However, the main point that convinced the jury to vote in favor of not guilty was that Highway 33, the highway in which the three girls had been driving on, was a poorly designed highway. The girls were at a full stop when a 4000-pound van rammed into their rear at what is estimated to be 50 miles per hour. Given the same sort of circumstances, any car would have suffered the same way that the Pinto did in this situation. (11)
Still, following the court decision, investigations were still performed to see if the explosion could easily be prevented. Documents were indeed found that showed that having the gas tank in an over-the-axle position was much safer than mounting it behind the axle. When hearing this fact, one can easily assume what Ford must have done and yes that is true. Ford decided to mount the gas tank behind axel in the Pinto to provide more trunk space for the driver and to conserve money. (12) Whether or not the jury would have changed their mind after seeing this information cannot be determined, but people, such as Richard De George feel that the evidence does show enough information for charges of recklessness against Ford. De George argues that Ford did not give the consumer the choice of whether or not they wanted to install a rubber bladder into the car for a small fee. Installing this rubber bladder, as stated earlier, would prevent the gas tank explosion. Giving the consumer the choice of whether or not he/she would want the rubber bladder would have made the gas tank problem of the Pinto known publicly. If known publicly, one can argue then that maybe Ford would have showed more urgency to fix it so that they would not ruin their reputation amongst consumers in the U.S.
Several different arguments and facts can be taken away from the Ford Pinto Cases across the country, but I think everyone can agree what Ford decided to do. They decided to act to earn profit, rather than ensure the safety of the people who buy their product. This act to earn profit caused the deaths of thousands of people and Ford will always have to live with having that discussed when talking about the Pinto.
(1) Faculty of Shelton State, "Ford Pinto Case," Shelton State Community College, http://faculty.sheltonstate.edu/~tmajor/BUS263/cases/pinto_case.pdf (accessed April 22, 2012).
(2) Christopher Leggett, "The Ford Pinto Case: The Valuation of Life as it Applies to the Negligence-Efficiency Argument," Wake Forest University, http://www.wfu.edu/~palmitar/Law&Valuation/Papers/1999/Leggett-pinto.html (accessed April 22, 2012).
(3) W. Michael Hoffman, "The Ford Pinto," Part Four: The Corporation in Society, McGraw Hill Education (1984), p. 552.
(4) Hoffman, p. 552.
(5) Faculty of Shelton State.
(6) Hoffman, p. 553.
(8) Faulty of Shelton State.
(9) Hoffman, p. 555.
(10) Hoffman, p. 556.
(11) Hoffman, p. 556.
(12) Hoffman, p. 556.
Faculty of Shelton State. "Ford Pinto Case." Shelton State Community College http://faculty.sheltonstate.edu/~tmajor/BUS26cases/pinto_case.pdf (accessed April 22, 2012).
Hoffman, W. Michael. "The Ford Pinto." Part Four: The Corporation in Society. McGraw Hill Education, 1984.
Leggett, Christopher. "The Ford Pinto Case: The Valuation of Life as it Applies to the Negligence- Efficiency Argument." Wake Forest University. http://www.wfu.edu/~palmitar/Law&Valuation/Papers/1999/Leggett-pinto.html (accessed April 22, 2012).