A Philosophical Perspective: Ford

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The Ford recall coordinator could see that Pinto was killing a lot of people in minor rear collisions. The fires that erupted as a result of fuel leakage from ruptured tanks could have been avoided if the tanks had been made more collision resistant. Since its release, the Pinto has attracted a large number of buyers, but the high number of fires and deaths caused by rear-end collisions had made the car a public health hazard. When the coordinator was confronted with field reports of rear end collisions, fires and deaths, he had the opportunity to recall all the Pinto cars that had been produced between 1970 and 1976. This essay considers the type of philosophy that was used to make a decision about the recall of the Pintos.

Armed with all the information that had been obtained through the tests before the Pinto cars were produced, and the field reports that were being sent to the recall coordinator, it was clear to him that the car was threatening human life. However, recalling all the 1.5 million cars already in the market would largely interfere with sales. The cars would have to be reengineered to correct the problem with the tanks. This would mean more costs for the production of the cars. The cars had been produced on the below 2000 rule. The car was not to cost any more than $2,000 and it was not to weigh any more than 2000 pounds. Approving the recall would mean that the production of the cars would cost more than $2000 (Shaw & Barry, 2001).

The recall coordinator, therefore, used the consequentialist approach in deciding that there would be no recall and the production of the Pintos would continue. He considered that, if he recalled all the 1.5 million cars, it would mean 1.5 million interrupted sales, which would translate into lost opportunities and lost profits. The recall itself would cost the company money, and the redesigning of the cars would also cost more money. Improving the fuel tank would also mean a reduced trunk space, which would make the cars less competitive. As a result, the company would lose more money than it had intended on making from the Pintos. The consequence of possible loss of profit and increased costs for the company was more serious than the fires and deaths that were being reported (Trevino & Nelson, 2014).

Ford, as well as the recall coordinator, did not demonstrate any moral awareness. During the production of the Pinto, the tests revealed that rear collisions at very slow speeds led to fuel leakage, which exploded into fires. Their tests showed that all the cars whose tanks had not been improved yielded the same results. However, the cars that they had improved by putting a rubber lining within the gas tank, a steel plate between the rear bumper and the fuel tank, or a plastic baffle between the gas tank and the axle housing did not have fuel leakage or tank ruptures during the crash tests. These improvements could only cost at most an extra $11 (Trevino & Nelson, 2014).

If the company had been morally aware, human life should have been considered to be of more value than the $11 cost. Their lack of moral awareness was made vivid when Ford argued using a cost-benefit analysis in which they stated that a cost to society of $200,725 whenever anyone died from an auto accident was much less than the cost they would incur in redesigning their cars (Shaw & Barry, 2001). Iacocca, the then CEO made their position very clear when he stated that “safety doesn’t sell”, basing his argument on a past experience when much was spent on ensuring safety on the 1950s Fords. An engineer of the company later echoed the same, stating that they were more concerned with the trunk space and not safety, because trunk space would help them to be competitive, while safety would not.

If I could have been the recall coordinator at Ford, I could have used the virtue ethics to make a decision about recalling the Pinto. I would focus on my integrity and the integrity of the company instead of the profitability and costs incurred. I would try my best to be good in my actions regardless of the consequences to the company. The life of the larger public who would use the cars would be my greatest concern. Letting people die from using cars that I know are faulty would hurt both my integrity and that of the company. Therefore, I would authorize the recall of the 1.5 million Pintos. My intention would be to improve the health of the society. I would use the evidence available to argue my case to the other executives at Ford about my decision. Deciding to save the lives of the people would make me feel better about myself and proud of my decision. Even if the decision would cost me my job, or lead to a drop in the productivity of the company, Ford’s integrity, as well as mine, would have been boosted (Murthy, 2010).

The life threatening Pinto cars should have been recalled. However, the recall coordinator was faced with an ethical dilemma. He was faced with the choice between increasing the costs incurred in production of the car beyond profitability, which would minimize the productivity of Ford Motor Co., and permitting the continued production of the Pinto cars, therefore allowing the fires and deaths to continue. He chose to focus on the consequences rather than his moral integrity and that of the company. If he had done this, he would have recalled all the life threatening cars and improve them to be safe for the society. The case has since helped other businesses in avoiding similar mistakes.


Murthy, C. (2010). Business ethics (1st ed.). Mumbai [India]: Himalaya Pub. House.

Shaw, W., & Barry, V. (2001). Moral issues in business (8th ed., pp. 83-86). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Trevino, L. & Nelson, K. (2014). Managing business ethics. Wiley Australia.

November 11, 2021

Life Business



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Cars Ford Motor Company

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Expertise Ford Motor Company
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