Ford Pinto was produced from 1971-80 and was subject to intense controversy due to its defective gas tank and the company’s unethical behaviour. In 1978, the Ford Motor Company was forced to withdraw 1.5 million Ford Pinto’s and 30,000 Mercury Bobcats from the market.
The reason was a famous article by journalist Mark Dowey, in which he reported on the technical flaws of the model – if hit by another car with moderate speed the Ford Pinto would simply combust – and furthermore, citing internal documents, that the Ford Motor Company were fully aware of these problems.
According to the documents, Ford decided from a cost/benefit analysis that it was cheaper to pay liabilities for 180 burn deaths and 180 injuries, than to modify the model. Dowey showed in his article that Ford owned the patent of a better gas tank by the time Pinto was released, but that it was decided not to implement it.
Subsequent tests showed that if the Pinto was hit from behind by another car driving 50 kilometres per hour, the fuel tank would burn out in less than one minute. At least six people died in fires caused by the defective gas tanks and an unknown number were injured.
At one point Ford found itself in a criminal trial accused of the wrongful death of three young women. In another case, Ford was convicted to pay a victim $125 million. Although the dangers of the Pinto already were well known in 1974, the cars were not withdrawn from the market until 1978.
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Links and references:
A fun page (with nice pictures):
A link collection:
A critical article by Walter Olson in the Wall Street Journal, February 9, 1993:
The Centre for Auto Safety: