Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


by Case Wagenvoord (March 08 2010)

The sordid story of the Ford Pinto is an instructive study of the corporate mindset, also known as corpothink.

It all started in the late 1960s when small foreign cars such as the VW Beetle were giving American automakers a run for their money.

Lee Iacocca, a Ford vice president, told Henry Ford II he could produce a car that would weigh less than 2,000 pounds and cost less than $2,000. And he promised Ford to have the car in dealer showrooms by 1971.

In the auto industry it normally takes 43 months for a new model to go from planning to production. Iacocca had the Pinto in production in 25 months.

During the initial design stage, engineers had become concerned over the fact that the gas tank was jammed hard against the back seat. They feared it might rupture in the event of a rear-end collision. In such a scenario, the smallest of sparks could set off a raging inferno.

Iacocca blew off the objections. As one engineer commented, "The company is run by salesmen, not engineers".

Once the car was in production, actual crash tests proved that matters were even worse than engineers had originally feared. The gas tank would ruptured in rear-end collisions as slow as 25 miles per hour. At forty miles per hour, the doors became jammed shut and occupants were trapped in a burning car.

What to do.

Hell! That was easy! Ford commissioned a cost-benefit analysis.

They estimated that the Pinto, as designed, would cause 180 burn deaths and 180 burn injuries. At $200,000 a death, $67,000 per injury and $700 per vehicle, the total cost to the company would be $49.5 million.

Redesigning the car to make it safe would cost the company $137 million.

It was a no brainer. The Pinto hit the market unmodified.

One wonders, in amazement, at the mindset that would let people burn just to save a few bucks. However, that's the rub. In corpothink, there are no people, only numbers.

What we have here is an example of corporate sociopaths at work. To the corporate sociopath, quantification is all. In this sterile world, there is no death, no blood, no gore, no charred bodies, no suffering, no cries of pain, no broken lives and no motherless children.

There are only numbers, and if the numbers justify an act, no matter how horrendous, then everything is fine because the corporate sociopaths are meeting their fiduciary obligations to their stockholders.

Life's easier than way. There are no sticky ethical questions to deal with. All the sociopath has to do is lean back and let the numbers do the thinking for him.

Incidentally, there is a coda to this tale. Ford could have made the Pinto safer for far less than the cost of the deaths and injuries. Goodyear had developed a rubber bladder that could be placed inside the gas tank, thus preventing the tank from rupturing. They didn't consider it because Iacocca wanted the cars in Ford showrooms by 1971, and modifying the car would have delayed that and possibly cost Ford some market share.

It was those pesky numbers again.


Case Wagenvoord blogs at Musings of a Right Wing Stoner and welcomes comments at

Bill Totten


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