Watching last night’s news, one of the stories that got only a brief mention, caught my attention. Yesterday Ford Motor Company announced a recall of 484,600 SUVs made by the manufacturer from 2001 to 2004. As a Ford owner from a family of Ford owners, I found this story to be of particular interest and found myself remembering one of the earliest cases from my time in law school, involving the Ford Pinto.
The Ford Pinto and its fuel system, which would rupture relatively easily in rear-end collisions, is famous for causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of people to be badly burned. Perhaps one of the most well-known instances of a company putting profits before their consumers, Ford reports that were later discovered showed Ford had determined that causing 180 burn deaths and another 180 serious burn injuries and paying $200,000 per death and $67,000 per injury would be more cost effective than paying $11 per car to fix the problem.
In fact, Ford’s latest recall hardly comes as a result of a similar number of injuries as the Ford Pinto, and it doesn’t come even close to cracking the top 10 recalls in history. Nevertheless, it does involve a particular item that has been a problem in the past for the American automobile giant. In 2009, Ford recalled more than 14 million automobiles made from 1992-2003, ranging from trucks to SUVs, in what is far and away the largest recall ever. That instance involved a cruise control switch that was prone to spontaneous combustion.
The recall yesterday arises out of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the cruise control device causing the throttle to stick and making it difficult to stop or slow Ford Escape and Maverick models. Remembering the Maverick as a compact sedan that Ford discontinued in the 1970s, I discovered that it’s also the name given to the Escape’s twin version over in Europe. Thus far the defect is responsible for 99 complaints, 13 of which involved crashes, one that killed a 17 year-old girl.
The news also came with a statement by the executive director of the Center for Automotive Safety, who said that Ford has known about the problem since 2005 but has used a cheap fastener piece rather than replace the defective cruise control cable.
While Ford’s latest recall of Ford Escape and Maverick SUVs comes with a great deal less pain and suffering as the Ford Pinto case, it appears to be a reminder that often corporations look past the safety of their consumers in pursuit of another dollar.