Determined to compete with fuel- efficient Volkswagen and Japanese imports, the Ford Motor Company introduced the subcompact Pinto in the 1971 model year. Lee Iacocca, Ford’s president at the time, insisted that the Pinto weigh no more than 2,000 pounds and cost no more than $2,000. Even with these restrictions, the Pinto met federal safety standards, although some people have argued that strict adherence to the restrictions led Ford engineers to compromise safety. Some 2 million units were sold during the 10- year life of the Pinto.
The Pinto’s major design flaw
A fuel tank prone to rupturing with moderate speed rear- end collisions— surfaced not too long after the Pinto’s entrance to the market. In April 1974, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned the National Highway Circulation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall Ford Pintos due to the fuel tank design defect. The Center for Auto Safety’s petition was based on reports from attorneys of three deaths and four serious injuries in moderate- speed rear- end collisions involving Pintos. The NHTSA did not act on this petition until 1977.
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As a result of tests performed for the NHTSA, as well as the extraordinary amount of publicity generated by the problem, Ford agreed, on June 9, 1978, to recall 1.5 million 1971– 1976 Ford Pintos and 30,000 1975– 1976 Mercury Bobcat sedan and hatchback models for modifications to the fuel tank. Recall notices were mailed to the affected Pinto and Bobcat own eras in September 1978.
Repair parts were to be delivered to all dealers by September 15, 1978. Unfortunately, the recall was initiated too late for six people. Between June 9 and September 15, 1978, six people died in Pinto fi res after a rear impact.
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