Chapter 11
2002: Ford Explorer Rollover
The San Diego Union Tribune Abstract:
Ford Motor Co. will pay state attorneys general $51 million to end claims
that its advertising fails to disclose the rollover risk involved with driving sport
utility vehicles, the Associated Press has learned. The money will be shared
among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin
Islands, said four sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. (AP, 2002)
In May 2001, Ford Motor Company recalled and replaced 13 million
Firestone tires equipped in its Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
This action was an attempt to end its dispute with Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.
over who was to blame for deadly Explorer rollover crashes. The dispute had
already generated bad publicity, launched congressional hearings, and
spawned a new focus on tire safety. In part because of the $3 billion price tag
for replacing the tires, Ford lost $5.45 billion in 2001 (Webster, 2003).
However, Firestone tires seem unlikely to have been the fundamental
cause of Ford Explorer rollover crashes. During the 10-year period during
which Ford–Firestone-related rollovers caused approximately 300 deaths,
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134 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
more than 12,000 people died in SUV rollover crashes (all models, not just
the Explorer) unrelated to tire failure (Frontline, 2002a). In this chapter, we
discuss issues connected to the design of the Ford Explorer SUV.
In response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which increased gasoline prices
and fuel shortages, the U.S. Congress rushed to pass fuel efficiency legisla-
tion for cars and light trucks. This legislation was included in the Energy
Policy and Conservation Act, which passed in 1975. Per the act, automakers
were required to meet strict fuel efficiency standards known as corporate
average fuel economy (CAFE). CAFE standards were administered by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The near-term
goal was to double new passenger car fuel efficiency to 27.5 miles per gallon
(mpg) by model year 1985. Because light trucks were primarily used on
farms and ranches, light truck fuel efficiency was to be set at the maximum
feasible level for model year 1979 and each model year thereafter. Failure
to meet the CAFE standard would result in fines, based on the total number
of vehicles produced by an automaker in a given model year (NHTSA,
With CAFE standards in place, fuel economy rose and helped turn
an oil shortage into a glut (Kennedy, 2004). CAFE standards were
decreased from model years 1986 to 1989 and fixed thereafter to 27.5 mpg
(NHTSA, 2005a). Had CAFE standards continued at their original rate
of increase through the end of calendar year 1986, it has been estimated
by economist Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute that
the United States would not have needed Persian Gulf oil after 1986
(Kennedy, 2004).
Automakers took advantage of the light truck “loophole” to manufacture
passenger cars that did not have to comply with CAFE standards. In 1975,
American Motors updated its Jeep CJ5 with modern 1970s styling. The
original Jeep was a military truck built for World War II usage. As the Jeep
CJ5 became popular and gas prices decreased in the early 1980s, American
Motors and other manufacturers debuted more sports utility vehicles.
New SUVs such as the Jeep Cherokee, Ford Bronco II, and Ford Explorer
provided large profits to ailing 1980s Detroit automakers because they were
essentially pickup truck parts sold for a luxury car price. Different passenger
compartments were bolted onto the steel underbodies of pickup trucks,
enabling pickups and SUVs to be built on the same assembly line (Frontline,
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