Essay: Ford Pinto

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[. . .] And did Ford engineers lobby their executive supervisors to change the gas tank when they knew they could use a tank that would not explode? If they did their efforts did not succeed. The correction needed in this case could have helped Ford's "…growth," not just in the sense of solving a problem, but also in human values (that is, producing safe cars rather than dangerous cars shows moral values). Schein write that "…correctiveness can have great effect on culture, because it could have had a positive effect on Ford's culture.

Dowie (3) notes that Lou Tubben, an engineer at Ford, a "…friendly, outgoing guy with a genuine concern for safety," had become so concerned about the "gas-tank integrity" asked his immediate supervisor if he could prepare a presentation on safety (vis-a-vis the Pinto gas tank problem). The supervisor gave permission and invited "…all company engineers and key production planning personnel" to attend; but when the presentation began, just two people were there -- Tubben and his supervisor. "Changing is difficult because of internal 'property,' Schein explains. This was a classic case of "property" being the Pinto's design already in place and no one wanted to challenge Iacocca. "Iacocca enforced these limits…" (that the Pinto could not weigh more than 2,000 pounds) "…with an iron hand," said an anonymous engineer. So even though a one-pound, one-dollar piece of plastic could have stopped the gas tank from rupturing, "it was thrown out as an extra cost and extra weight" (Dowie, 6).

The PowerPoint: cultural manifestations

Ford had an "autocratic" management style (Iacocca's iron fist); a) subordinates were not allowed to participate in the decision-making process; b) decisions were made quickly; c) Iacocca was manipulative and coercive; d) Iacocca's authority was omnipotent, preventing input from engineers that knew full well the dangers imminent in the gas tank issue; e) the Ford culture in this case did not solve problems as a group; f) when participants are intelligent "and desire independence" they need to be empowered as participants in decision-making (and they were not); and g) culture "manifests itself" when members communicate and act collectively but in this case they did not so culture was really a group of skilled engineers bowing down to power at the top that was omnipotent (PowerPoint).

The 7 dimensions of an organization's culture: the PowerPoint

Rating the Ford culture at the time of the Pinto disaster boils down to these points: a) Innovation and Risk Taking (there was little if any innovation but risks were taken when engineers knowingly allowed Pintos to be built that could cause passengers to burn to death); b) Attention to Detail (there was attention to keeping the car under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000, but as for safety, it was thrown out the window under Iacocca's firm hand); c) Outcome Orientation (Ford lobbyists pushed the federal government to back off on safety standards and moreover, the company accountants calculated that "…the cost of equipping each car with a safety gadget [$5.08 Goodyear bladder] was…greater than that of paying out millions to survivors like Robbie Carlton or to widows and widowers…" (Dowie, 15); d) People Orientation (according to journalist Robert Sherefkin writing in Automotive News the Pinto caused "…an estimated 500 deaths and hundreds of injuries" and 117 lawsuits were filed against Ford by customers); e) Team Orientation (this was a group of engineers under the strict control of autocratic Lee Iacocca and a group of lawyers later who argued that people cause crashes and deaths, not cars); f) Aggressiveness (Iacocca was relentless in his aggressive push to get the Pinto on the market and it was a disaster; also the lobbying by Ford to get the federal government to enact lax safety legislation was aggressive as well); g) Stability (the stability of Ford's reputation and of its legal component was very shaky).

Challenges faced, Trait and Style & Transformational approaches

In short, Ford first faced the challenge of getting its cars into showrooms in record time; when hundreds of deaths occurred due to the flaw in the gas tank Ford faced challenges from 117 lawsuits and ultimately challenges to its credibility. Iacocca's traits (pushy, self-assured, charismatic, follow me or get out of my way) put him in a good position to push through his plan by the sheer force of his personality. His style was effective in leading his engineers to achieve a common goal -- getting the Pinto into showrooms in order to profit from the small car craze. Iacocca cannot be seen as a transformational leader because he did not "…garner trust, respect and admiration" from his followers (Cherry, 2010). Moreover, Iacocca did not "…inspire followers to… advance to a higher level of moral" behavior (Cherry).

Analysis of the Pinto story

Ford's reputation after the Pinto scandal took a serious blow. When the news came out that Ford had put a dollar figure on the value of a human life; "…to tell someone that there is a certain price for their life [in this case, $200,725] is a preposterous notion" (Leggett, 1999). A new design (safer) would have resulted in "180 less deaths," Leggett writes, but Ford figured paying litigation costs (an estimated $49.5 million) was cheaper than a design change (estimated to cost $137 million). This was an unconscionable breach of trust with American consumers.

Was Iacocca's behavior understandable? In a way, given the cutthroat auto business, his behavior can be understood because Ford losing out to competitors is not good capitalist strategy. But ethically, Iacocca was a reprehensible and obsessive autocrat who deserved to be fired (which he was eventually). Did Iacocca engage in "common behavior" or was he a scapegoat? It is not commonplace business behavior nor is it acceptable to trade human lives for corporate profit. The egregious lack of ethical backbone was recklessly on display with Iacocca's push to get the Pinto into showrooms. Iacocca was not a scapegoat; he was a man on a felonious mission. The historical legacy of this case will haunt Ford forever; however, most people buying Ford products today feel safe in the knowledge that a car company won't put them in jeopardy of being burned to death. Business leaders in the future certainly will have learned from the disastrous Ford Pinto case. What could have been done? The president of Ford at that time, Knudsen, should have had the corporate power of oversight to correct the flaws in the gas tanks before the Pinto was pushed into production. Iacocca was out of control and needed to be brought into line by Knudsen. In conclusion, today's auto companies are concentrating on safety engineering and on economy of operation due to high gasoline prices. Note the millions of cars that have been recalled by Toyota and other manufacturers. This corporate scandal is history now, and manufacturers today wouldn't risk the negative publicity or the litigation by putting out a car with goals to keep it cheap rather than safe -- the media is too powerful to give it fodder like what Ford came up with in the 1970s.

Specific recommendations: Auto companies need to have careful, in-depth inspections of any new car's design conducted by wholly independent auditors prior to production. The auditors should have the authority to publically point to unsafe designs, if the company refuses to make adjustments following the audits. Moreover, boards of directors, as stakeholders, should have updated biographical and on-the-job psychological-related information on top executives that are making decisions that could negatively impact the public. Iacocca's obsessive and immoral decisions could have been stopped before people were burned to death in Pintos.

Works Cited

Cherry, Kendra. (2010). Transformational Leadership. Retrieved November 23,

2012, from

Consumer Guide. (2008). 1971-1980 Ford Pinto. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved November 21,

2012, from

Dowie, Mark. (1977). Pinto Madness. Mother Jones. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

How Stuff Works / Encyclopedia of American Cars. (2008). 1971-1980 Ford Pinto. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

Leggett, Christopher. (1999). The Ford Pinto Case: The Valuation of Life as it Applies to the Negligence-Efficiency… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Essay:

APA Format

Ford Pinto.  (2012, November 23).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Ford Pinto."  23 November 2012.  Web.  26 June 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Ford Pinto."  November 23, 2012.  Accessed June 26, 2019.