CAS Recall Request to William Clay Ford, Jr.

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

June 25, 2002

William Clay Ford, Jr., Chairman
Ford Motor Company
The American Road
Dearborn MI 48121

Dear Mr. Ford:

From the classic 1965-68 Mustang to the 1971-76 Ford Pinto both with exploding gas tanks to the 1983-87 E-series vans/ambulances with fuel systems that spurt gasoline to the 3.6 million1986-87 models with fuel line coupler separation to now the 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Grant Marquis and Lincoln Town Car with exploding fuel tanks, Ford has the worst overall record of all auto companies on motor vehicle fire safety. (Attachment A is a list of 16 major fuel fed fire recalls by Ford. Although GM had the worst crash fire defect in motor vehicle history with the 1973-87 C/K pickup with side saddle gas tanks, only Ford has kept repeating fuel fed fire defects one after another.)

For a company with two of the most infamous and costly recalls ever with the exploding Ford Pinto and the E-series vans and ambulances that had state Attorneys General led by Mary Sue Terry of Virginia and William Webster of Missouri threatening legal action, it is inexplicable that Ford has so far refused to recall not only the police vehicles but also the civilian version of the 1992-01 Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car which share the same fuel system. (Attachments B and C are summaries of the events that forced Ford to recall these vehicles.)

How can Ford Motor Company justify not recalling a vehicle involved in at least 10 fatal fire crashes of police officers since 1992 and at least 13 more civilian deaths listed in FARS as caused by fire between 1994 and 2000? (Attachment D is a listing of know fatal crashes of 1992-2001 Ford police as well as the predecessor model.)

At a time when all American recognizes police officers for the heros that they are, Ford send its officials to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to block an investigation into the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. ( Attachment E is a June 5, 2001 NHTSA recommendation to open a Preliminary Evaluation which would have been included in NHTSA’s July monthly defect investigation if opened. Attachment Fis a Ford Critical Concerns Group memorandum that states “DAE [Ford Design Analysis Engineering] and ASO [Ford Automotive Safety Office] went to NHTSA, got an agreement NHTSA will not open.”)

This harkens back to Ford’s infamous cost-benefit analysis in 1972 used to oppose NHTSA’s fuel system integrity standard when it calculated that spending $11/vehicles to prevent vehicle burn deaths and injuries cost three more than the benefits. ( “Fatalities Associated With Crash Induced Fuel Leakage And Fire.” Attachment G.) Ford today shows its callous disregard for human life by calling the Arizona police deaths a “curiosity.”

Ford was so successful in its opposition to NHTSA imposing any rear impact fuel system integrity standard that it took an act of Congress, the Motor Vehicle and Schoolbus Safety Amendments of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-492, to finally impose a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) for rear impacts effective for the 1977 model year beginning September 1976. As Senator Joseph Montoya pointed out: “A postponement of the effective date of a rear-end collision standard until September 1976 would represent . . . an incredible delay of over 8 years since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first announced its intention to devise a fuel system standard covering rear-end collisions.” ( Attachment H is a copy of Senator Montoya’s remarks from the January 28, 1974 Congressional Record.)

Despite the cost in human lives, Ford established a policy to take advantage of the delay in the rear impact provision of FMVSS 301. For the “30 MPH Moveable Rear Barrier Impact: Package provision will be provided to meet this requirement on all cars by 1976, but actual hardware will not be added until required by law.” (Emphasis in original.) (Attachment I is Ford Safety Program Letter 73S-4-S1, “Corporate Fuel System Integrity Objectives,” Apr. 26, 1971.) Ford’s action was all about saving money, not saving lives. In reviewing this decision to delay fuel system safety, the Court of Appeals of Georgia found in upholding an $8 million punitive damage award on behalf of fatally burned 15-year old Terri Stubblefield who was in a 1975 Ford Mustang II that erupted into a ball of fire while stopped in traffic and hit from behind by another car traveling at 56 to 65 mph:

[A] management decision was made during that time period to delay implementation of protective hardware for the Mustang II’s fuel tank until “required by law, ” even though the body design and fuel tank location of both the Pinto and the Mustang II caused the fuel tank to jam into the rear axle when struck from behind. Ford’s internal documents referred to this as a “failure mode,” and the problem was known and documented as early as 1968 when Ford analyzed the hazard of post-crash, fuel-fed automobile fires as shown by accident data. When Ford engineers sought guidance from management as to what should be done, Ford’s executives decided to “defer adoption”of any protective devices until 1976 enabling it to “realize a design cost savings of $20.9 million compared to incorporation in 1974.” Ford Motor Co. v. Stubblefield, 171 Ga.App. 331, 334, 319 S.E.2d 470, 476 (1984).

From the Pinto and Mustang to the Crown Victoria, Ford has used lawyers and lobbyists to engineer loopholes into safety regulations rather than using engineers to build crash fire safety into motor vehicles.

Even after FMVSS 301 and its rear impact requirement took effect in 1977, the standard did not improve fuel system integrity and was never upgraded as NHTSA proposed to prevent fire deaths in crashes where occupants survived the crash forces. The fundamental principle of crash fire safety is that if you survive the trauma of a crash, you should not die by fire. (CAS has repeatedly petitioned NHTSA to adopt this principle into the requirements of FMVSS from 1972 when it sought matching the fuel system crash speed with the occupant protection crash speed to 1993 when it sought a 45-mph rear barrier crash standard and ultimately 55-mph barrier crash protection. Attachment J is CAS’ 1993 summary petition to Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.) In 1990, NHTSA published an evaluation of FMVSS 301 failed to show any reduction in vehicle crash fire fatalities due to the standard. Overall, deaths in crash fires increased from 1,300 in 1975 to 1,800 in 1988 while overall traffic deaths were decreasing. (Attachment K contains the findings from the report, “Motor Vehicle Fires in Traffic Crashes and the Effects of the Fuel System Integrity Standard.”) Defending the Crown Victoria today because it meets an inadequate crash fire safety standard is no more valid than Ford defending the Pinto in the 1970’s because it met an inadequate crash fire safety standard then.

Ford and the public pay an awesome price for failing to build crash fire safety into Ford vehicles. The public pays in avoidable burn deaths and injuries. Ford pays in lost consumer confidence, recalls, sales and product liability losses. (In addition to Stubblefield, juries imposed $125 million and $100 million punitive damage awards respectively in Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co., 174 Cal. Rptr. 348 (1981) and Durrill v. Ford Motor Co., 714 SW2d 329 (1984) which involved fuel tank fire crashes. The recalls of the fuel spurting vans and ambulances in 1987-88 cost Ford $200 million. The Pinto recall not only cost Ford $100 million but hastened the demise of the Pinto.)

In November 1999, the Center for Auto Safety wrote you about defective head gaskets in 1988-95 Ford vehicles and the egregious record of Ford Motor Company in violating consumer protection laws and avoiding recalls. We asked you:

As the new Chairman of Ford Motor Company and the heir to one of the nation’s most prominent families, we call on you to exercise moral and management leadership by bringing Ford Motor Company back from the edge of lawlessness and make it a model for corporate responsibility.

Rather than becoming personally involved in part because you were new to the job of Chairman, you turned the matter over to “operating management.” With police officers dying across America in Ford Crown Victoria police cars while Ford’s “operating management” lobbies NHTSA behind closed doors to block a defect investigation. That’s the old Ford which we ask you to reform. What better way to show that you care for America and Ford consumers than by recalling all 1992-2001 Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car vehicles to improve the fuel system integrity before more consumers and police officers die in fire crashes.


Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director