The Ford Pinto: Ethical Issues

Subject: Business Ethics
Pages: 2
Words: 564
Reading time:
2 min
Study level: Bachelor

The Ford Pinto case was an example of indirect harm caused by failing to utilize the intellectual abilities of the company’s personnel to fix a problem that could put thousands of lives in danger. Ford’s decision not to modify the car prototype that explodes in the event of the collision was dictated by an increased cost (Shaw & Barry, 2015). Even though the firm wanted to deliver cheap automobiles to their customers, their reasoning was fundamentally wrong since this defect could cost individuals’ lives. This attitude could be excused if Ford produced apparel, where a cheap fabric would only ruin a person’s mood. Ford’s decision could be explained by the intention to save customers’ money. However, the consequences of this viewpoint would be preventable catastrophic accidents; hence, even from a deontological perspective, this action was wrong because it was unethical to hide the truth.

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It appears that Ford was partially guided by Kantian philosophy when he decided to proceed with the potentially dangerous car. Kant claimed that any action could be considered good if it was based on a specific principle or motivation (Shaw & Barry, 2015). Utilitarianists could also justify Ford’s choice not to delay the release of the new automobile model to the market because the company’s primary goal was to give consumers a cheaper alternative, maximizing their happiness. The main issue of such perspectives is that individuals’ principles may be wrong because their actions can hurt other people. Moreover, someone’s happiness would end at the moment when one’s car exploded in a car crash. It is hard to attain consensus about this case since people’s moral values vary significantly, but the facts cannot be ignored. Specifically, Ford Pinto’s dysfunctional gas tanks were responsible for about 500 fire-related deaths in the 1970s (Shaw & Barry, 2015). Although the court found Ford not guilty, the drivers could survive automobile crashes if their cars did not detonate.

Despite the non-consequentialist approach of deontological and Kantian ideology, their supporters would agree that lying was wrong, regardless of Ford’s real intentions. In fact, the “deliberate misrepresentation is always wrong” because it is equivalent to exposing uninformed people’s lives to risk (Shaw & Barry, 2015). Furthermore, Kant’s philosophy forbids treating human beings as means to achieve a goal, and in the Ford Pinto case, customers were viewed in such a way (Shaw & Barry, 2015). Ford wanted to sell cheap automobiles for every American to have a vehicle, but another intention was to win the competition with rivals for the U.S. market. Therefore, such sacrifice for the sake of providing every citizen with an opportunity to own a car is not justifiable.

In summary, the Ford Pinto case was an example of the dual nature of the deontological perspective. On the one hand, the company wanted to maximize people’s happiness by providing cheap cars. Indeed, deontologists could argue that this action was right because its principal motivation was to make individuals’ lives more comfortable and joyful. On the other hand, Ford’s decision to proceed with a dysfunctional gas tank was dangerous for the consumers, making this case unjustifiable. In fact, Kant denied using deception to represent a product in a good light because hiding the truth is bad. Overall, even Kantian ideology, which stated that any action was good if driven by a principle, would consider this case morally wrong because it was based on a lie.


Shaw, W. H., & Barry, V. (2015). Moral issues in business (13th ed.). Cengage Learning.