The 1977 Ford Pinto case

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The1977 Ford Pinto case

The1977 Ford Pinto case

LeeIacocca, the then new president of Ford, rushed into production theFord Pinto, insisting that the Japanese would capture the Americanmarket if a suitable alternative were not given. Iacocca ordered hisengineers to design the development of the Pinto Ford within a veryshort production period to make it in the showrooms together with the1971 models (Dowie, 1977). The tooling of the vehicle took a shortperiod, which resulted in the machines used to make the car partsbeing produced before an effective testing of the car. Iacocca didnot care about safety, which saw the company fail to mention safetyin its product objectives. The lack of safety concerns resulted in aproduction of faulty gas tanks that resulted in many people perishingin road accidents.


TheFord Pinto dilemma affected several key stakeholders, includingcompany employees, product engineers, executive management, politicallobbyists, federal auto-safety bureaucrats, and target marketconsumers. According to the executive management that took part inthe legal repercussions, it was better to fight legislation andallegations rather than improving the car safety because it was moreprofitable (Dowie, 1977). Some employees such as engineers hadfinancial benefits from the management’s decision to aim at makingmore profit at the expense of public safety. However, an argument canbe given that the knowledgeable stakeholders who did not make thedecision were equally morally responsible. Customers are the mostimportant stakeholders, which means that an organization should focuson serving the consumers diligently (Rubin, 2014). Even though Forddid this by building an affordable vehicle to most customers, thecompany endangered their lives by ignoring the safety features of thevehicle. This brings to ethical considerations about the value ofcompany profit versus the human life value.

Ethicaltheories analysis

TheFord Pinto dilemma could be analyzed from different ethicalperspectives. The dilemma involves a clash between different culturalopinions: the ethical mindset that sees value life should always beabove profits and financial gain, and a corporate culture perspectivethat considers profit to be of more importance (Gioia, 2012). Innormal cases, most people would consider it evil and immoral toprefer financial benefits in place of human life. It is a punishableoffense legally to cause the death of another person. However, thecrafty rhetoric results in white collar crimes being vieweddifferently or overlooked. The legal obligations of an organizationto put the financial interests of the employers and the shareholdersabove other important issues have resulted in contradicting culturalvalues (Bodde, 2014). Some people would consider valuing human life,personal and that of others. On the other hand, the society hasdeveloped an economic system that combines competition and personalgain with social progress, which creates a barrier between personalvalues and work values.


TheFord Pinto’s dilemma case is a perfect example of a crime whereethical concerns are overlooked, and profit is prioritized. It isunethical to monetize the human life for cost-benefit analysisreasons because it is not possible to value the human life. It is notpossible to translate the human value into monetary terms. Theprocess of integrating personal gain and social progress instead ofsocial gain have resulted in many lives being lost (Moore&amp Tenbrunsel, 2014).Even though profits allows organizations to exist, bring forthluxuries and innovations that help in improving the quality ofliving, if the only concern for the organizations is profit, theconsumer is perceived as a cash cow that should not be served butexploited.


Bodde,D.L. (2014). Ethics and the Allocation of Risk in Engineering Design.InternationalCenter for Automotive Research, ClemsonUniversity.

Dowie,M. (1977, September/October). Pinto madness. Mother Jones Retrievedfrom

Gioia,D.A. (2012). PintoFires and Personal Ethics: A Script Analysis of Missed OpportunitiesCitationClassics from the Journal of Business Ethics,Volume2 of the series Advances in Business Ethics Researchpp 675-689

Moore,C. &amp Tenbrunsel, A. (2014). “Justthink about it”? Cognitive complexity and moral choice.Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Volume 123,Issue 2, March 2014, Pages 138–149

Rubin,G.D. (2014). Does the Fact the Financial Sector is Heavily RegulatedLeave Any Place for Ethics? Instituteof Business Ethic, Universityof Leeds.