Monday, March 10, 2003

SUVs - Suddenly Upside-down Vehicles

At Ford, why wasn't safety job 1?

Like other car companies, Ford has consistently fought mandatory increases in fuel economy for SUVs and other vehicles by invoking fears that higher mileage requirements would result in smaller, more dangerous vehicles. Safety has been used to beat back fuel efficiency regulations. But Ford's own internal documents and a series of recent court cases reveal a company that is shockingly indifferent to safety risks in the very class of gas-guzzling vehicles it most wants to shield from increases in fuel economy standards—SUVs.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of internal company documents never before made public reveals that Ford engineers knew in 1982 that the original sport-utility vehicle, the Bronco II, was prone to roll over during safety tests. With modest changes that did not significantly reduce rollover potential, the Bronco II was renamed the Explorer in 1990.

The Bronco II was so unstable that Ford’s engineers cancelled test drives out of fear for the safety of Ford’s professional test drivers. Ford executives dismissed their own engineers’ urgings that they widen the vehicle to make it safer, went into production anyway, and then paid a former company engineer $5 million to lie about what Ford knew and when they knew it in 30 lawsuits against the company over 8 years.

When confronted with this evidence in 2001, a federal judge in Goff v. Ford concluded that as a matter of law, Ford had engaged in a conspiracy to commit fraud [Excerpt | Full document]. Other courts have delivered equally harsh assessments of Ford’s conduct in SUV rollover cases. In a 1999 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals referred to Ford’s behavior in bringing the Bronco II to market as: "highly reprehensible" and "the crassest form of corporate indifference to safety . . . of the consumer" [Excerpt ]. Government records show that 3,826 people died in Bronco II and Explorer rollovers between 1983 and 2001.

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