2002: Ford Explorer Rollover 143
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Describe the similarities among the Ford Pinto, Bronco II, and Explorer
design decision-making processes. Why did Ford not seem to learn from
its Pinto experience?
2. Rollover problems have plagued sport utility vehicles since primitive
truck-based ones were built for the military during World War II.
Indeed, costly rollover lawsuits involving truck-based Jeeps pushed
American Motors to design the Jeep Cherokee from scratch as a sport
utility vehicle in the early 1980s. Based on New York Times analysis of
federal crash statistics from 1991 to 1999, Explorer drivers are nearly
twice as likely to die in rollovers as are occupants of Jeep Cherokees
and Grand Cherokees, the only popular sport utilities long built like
cars (Bradsher, 2000). As part of the professional responsibility of
technical competence, should a senior light truck designer be aware of
this rollover history?
3. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s mission is to “save
lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes. Is NHTSA
fulfilling its mission?
4. An alternative method for managing crises is described by Surowiecki
(Surowiecki, 2005). Read this article, which describes the Ford-Firestone
debacle as an example of poor crisis management. How involved should
engineers be in their company’s crisis management?
5. According to former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook, lawsuits
are an important part of highway traffic safety. Said Claybrook,
The lawsuits gather information. They result in sanctioning the company—
sometimes with big punitive damages, which are a deterrent. And they’re very
important because the auto companies make a cost-benefit calculation that
they’re not going fix something unless it’s going to cost them more not to....
It’s a terrible thing in terms of public policy. And so these lawsuits force
them—prematurely, before they want to—to redesign, fix and recall some of these
vehicles or other products, and also to disclose information. (Frontline, 2002c)
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 limits attorney fees and moves
jurisdiction from local to federal district courts (USC, 2005) in order to
prevent excessive judgments. Do you believe the Ford judgments were
excessive? Discuss.
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