The Case of the Ford Pinto Essay

The Ford Pinto first rolled off the Ford Motor Co. production lines in 1971 and stayed in production in its original state until 1978. The vehicle engineers were tasked to develop the vehicle and put it into production within 25 months, which was nearly half the time in which the average new vehicle is put into production. The Ford engineers were aware that rear-end impact safety tests were pretty standard at the time, but they were not required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at that time.

The vehicle was rushed into production anyway to compete with foreign compact cars being developed by the Japanese during that time period. Only after the vehicle was made available to the public was the vehicle tested. The Ford Pinto ended up failing the rear safety test, due to the fact that it was susceptible to fire from rear end collisions. Ford engineers determined that the problem could be resolved by installing a baffle, which protected the gas tank from being punctured during rear-end collisions. The part would have only cost between $6. 65 and $11 to be install, but the Ford Motor Co. etermined through cost-benefit analysis that the cost of lawsuits would be less than the cost of installing the baffle and decided not to install the baffle.

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Ford Motor Co. also failed to notify customers of the problem and offer them the option to have the baffle installed. Between 1971 and 1978 the Ford Pinto would be involved in thirteen rear-end collisions that caused the vehicle to start on fire. The actions of the Ford Motor Co. were scrutinized for the production of the vehicle. (DeGorge)While the vehicle did meet the safety standards of the time, Ford Motor Co. new of the problem and did nothing to resolve it. This leads us to the question the ethical actions of the Ford Motor Co. production of the Ford Pinto. After realizing there was a safety issue with the Ford Pinto, was it morally right for the Ford Motor Co. to blatantly disregard the issue for profit? Through utilitarian analysis we can determine the answer to this question. “Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that holds that an action is right if it produces, or if it tends to produce, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people being affected by the action, otherwise it is wrong”. DeGorge) So we must determine the people affected by the action in order to determine if the greatest good was produced by Ford’s decision.

The Ford Motor Co. are certainly affected, the stockholders of Ford Motor Co. , and the buyer of the Ford Pinto are all certainly affected. But there are people outside of these groups which are affected as well. Other passengers of the Ford Pinto, other drivers on the road, as well as friends and family of the people who could be harmed should be taken into account as well. Obviously the Ford Motor Co. nd the stockholders are affected monetarily by the businesses decision. According to the safety study the vehicle could easily catch on fire if involved in an accident. So the buyer, passengers, and other motorists are affected by the company’s decision health wise. Friends and Family can be affected indirectly either emotionally or monetarily, if they are dependent on someone whose life is lost due to Ford’s decision. The possible hazard should have clearly been considered the dominant consideration when Ford was making the decision whether or not to fix the problem with the Ford Pinto.

A rational person objectively making the decision would always value life over money. It’s important to take all possible consequences both good and bad when making a determination whether an action is moral or immoral though. There are several pertinent consequences that occurred from Ford’s decision to not install buffers in the Ford Pinto. One good consequence was that Ford Motor Co. was able to save money on the production of the Pinto. Another good consequence was that Ford was able to continue to offer the Pinto at an affordable price to their customers.

A bad consequence is the fact that many drivers and passengers (as well as other drivers on the road) lives were put at risk and several of them were seriously injured by the defect. The weighing of these various consequences is crucial to determining whether the actions of Ford Motor Co. were moral or immoral from a utilitarian view. “Every aspect must be examined to evaluate potential good and bad outcomes; if the goods outweigh the bads, then morally the action can be deemed right”. Lundy) Weighing the monetary costs of all the consequences of Ford’s decision can be done for many of the consequences, but can we really put a dollar value on a life? A simple cost-benefit analysis is an incorrect approach to looking at the consequences. Instead we can take a hedonistic approach and break these consequences down into simple units of pain and pleasure. Since each person affected is weighed equally among the calculation it should be the same for everyone. “We should consider the intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, and purity of the value in question”. DeGorge)

Let’s consider the first consequence using the hedonistic approach; Ford Motor Co. was able to save money on the production of the Ford Pinto. This is a good consequence and therefore creates pleasure, but it only affects the Ford Motor Co. This means this pleasure does not apply to everyone and is therefore a minimal pleasure if existent at all when spread out over all people affected by the decision. The Ford Pinto being made affordable is also a pleasure. This only applies to the customer and the Ford Motor Co. the customer was able to save $11 on the purchase of the Ford Pinto and Ford was able to keep the price of the car lower by $11. The pleasure produced by this is relatively small, when spread out over everyone affected by the decision. The intensity and duration of the pleasure is minimal. The injury to motorists, who purchase the vehicle as well as others on the road, is certainly considered pain. This affects everyone and therefore is weighted more heavily than those consequences that do not. The duration of this pain also lasts a lifetime.

The intensity is extreme compared to that of the other consequences. This outcome is not certain for everyone, but it certainly going to happen to at least some people. When combining all these outcomes it becomes clear that the overall pain derived from the decision outweighs the pleasure. We must also consider indirect consequences as well though. The bad press that Ford Motor Co. received from the decision is obviously a pain. The resulting lawsuits from the injured people are also a pain. The pain and suffering of friends and family is also considered a bad consequence and therefore a pain.

These indirect consequences only add to the pain derived from the decision Ford made not to install the buffer. Some could argue that Ford Motor Co. cost-benefit analysis proved that they were acting in a way that created the greatest good. One problem with Ford’s analysis is that it does not take all the consequences that their action would cause. They did not account for the bad press they would receive for such an action. The Ford Motor Co. would become “the first American corporation ever indicted or prosecuted on criminal homicide charges” (Engineering. com).

Although they were acquitted of the charges the bad press that came as a result of Ford’s decision cause Ford’s reputation to become tarnished. Another problem is that the cost benefit analysis only focuses on the Ford Motor Co. , rather than everyone affected both directly and indirectly. The third problem with the analysis is that it breaks every aspect of the decision down to dollars and cents. Can we really put a dollar amount on the cost of a life? Ford evidently thought they could, but a cost-benefit tool “cannot predict the consequences accurately or quantify benefits and harms”. Lundy) Cost-benefit analysis is certainly useful tool for a business, but companies use this tool to weigh good and bad consequences in monetary terms as it relates purely to the company itself. This is different from a utilitarian analysis which accounts for good and bad consequences that affect everyone. (DeGorge) When combining all these factors it becomes clear that the decision made by Ford Motor Co. to not install the buffer was immoral. The pain far exceeds the pleasure derived from the action and therefore did not create the greatest good.

While Ford’s cost-benefit analysis showed that it was of the greatest good to them to not install the buffer, it was not the greatest good to everyone. There was an alternative that would have created the greatest good, which was to simply install a low cost buffer. Therefore from a utilitarian perspective the actions of the Ford Motor Co. would be considered immoral.

Works Cited

DeGorge, Richard T. Business Ethics. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010. Engineering. com. Ford Pinto. 24 October 2006. 28 August 2012 . Lundy, Annie. Applying Utilitarianism to Business Ethics: The Ford Pinto Case. 6 February 2009. 28 August 2012 .


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