The Ford Pinto Exploding Gas Tank

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Taken from Charles B. Fleddermann, Engineering Ethics, 2 ed., Prentice Hall, 2004, pp. 72-73 In the late 1960’s, Ford Motor Company set out to produce a subcompact automobile that would compete with the Japanese subcompacts that were becoming increasingly popular in the United States. The president of Ford, Lee Iacocca, set an ambitious two-year agenda for the design and initial production of the Pinto. This schedule meant that the car would come to market in 25 months rather than go through the average 43 month design cycle at Ford. Iacocca wanted the care to be introduced in the 1971 model year with a suggested retail price of no more than $2,000 and with a weight of less than 2,000 pounds. Cost and weight constraints are something that automotive engineers always face, and Ford engineers certainly knew how to deal with them. However, the fast design cycle presented great challenges to the engineering staff. One of the myriad decisions that confronted the engineers was the placement of the gas tank. The tank could have been placed over the differential, where it would have been somewhat safe in the event of a rear-end collision. However, considerations of trunk space and manufacturing cost dictated that the tank be placed farther back, between the differential, which had several exposed bolt heads, and the rear bumper. In this position, a rear-end collision might push the gas tank forward into the differential, where the exposed bolts could rupture the tank, possibly leading to a fire or explosion. Ford engineers knew that the Pinto’s gas tank design was susceptible to explosions from rear-end collisions, mainly from previous experience with the Capri, a European car produced by Ford on which this problem had occurred and had been fixed. In rear-end collision tests, a Capri with a rear-mounted tank was susceptible to gas tank rupture in impacts as

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