Safety Second
The Ford Pinto’s designer Lee Iacocca couldn’t be bothered by mundane safety defects.

In the late 1960s during a rising trend of sub-compact vehicles, Iacocca, the originator of the Ford Mustang, gave another go at design.  “The Pinto was not to weigh an ounce over 2,000 pounds and not cost a cent over $2,000.”  During design and production, Ford crash-tested the Pinto at a top-secret site more than 40 times, and every test made at over 25 mph without special structural alteration of the car resulted in a ruptured fuel tank.  Since correction of this gross error would require changing and strengthening the design, it was overlooked:

When it was discovered the gas tank was unsafe, did anyone go to Iacocca and tell him? “Hell no,”  replied an engineer who worked on the Pinto, a high company official for many years....  "That person would have been fired. Safety wasn’t a popular subject around Ford in those days. With Lee it was taboo. Whenever a problem was raised that meant a delay on the Pinto, Lee would chomp his cigar, look out the window and say, ‘Read the product objectives and get back to work.’”

--“Pinto Madness” by Mark Dowie, Mother Jones, September/October 1977


In 1965, the government was just beginning to regulate automobile safety, but lobbyists for Ford and other automakers convinced. the government to delay regulations on fuel tanks for another eight years.   Ford’s main argument for the delay was their “cost-benefit analysis” of altering the fuel tanks.   According to their estimates, the unsafe tanks would cause 180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, and 2,100 burned vehicles each year.   The company calculated that it would have to pay $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, and $700 per vehicle, for a total of $49.5 million.   However, the cost of alterations on all vehicles would cost $11 per car or truck, which added up to $137 million per year.   Ford’s argument was simply that it would be cheaper just to let their customers burn rather than prevent any injuries at all.   On top of their disturbingly callous and dangerous approach, when Ford actually started fixing the gas tanks, it was not $11 to fix each vehicle, but rather, a mere $1 to save the lives of the customers.





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