Statement on Retrofit for GM Pickups – Clarence Ditlow, CAS Executive Director

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.

April 23, 2001



At Last a Remedy But GM Continues to Stonewall After All These Year

In the Fall of 1972 GM went against the advice of its engineers, against 40 years of industry recognized safety practices, against the safer designs of its competitors and introduced the 1973 C/K pickup with side saddle gas tanks outside the frame. Safe fuel system design is not complex; it’s good engineering. Anyone who survives the trauma of a crash should not burn to death. That very recommendation was made to GM’s top management in 1972. At the same time Edward Ivey did a cost benefit analysis for GM that concluded it was worth only $2.20 per vehicle in additional cost to prevent a fire death. At the same time, GM design engineers repeatedly recommended placing the fuel tank inside the frame or at least add shields but these recommendations were ignored because GM management placed sales over safety as Transportation Secretary Pena observed in initially determining GM’s side saddle pickups to be defective. The tragic story of how GM rejected one engineering recommendation after another for safer fuel tank design from Alexander Mair’s put the tank “as near the center of the vehicle as practical” to George Kendro’s various inside the frame designs to Mair’s $23 shield as “a probable easy fix” are documented in our report. When asked in a video deposition if he could name a worse place to put a fuel tank than outside the frame rail on the side, Mr. Ivey responded: “Well, yes. You could put it on the front bumper.”

Under the class action settlement, plaintiff’s counsel did what GM was unwilling to do – fund a one million dollar independent research project under the direction of Dr. Kennerly Digges, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official, at Automotive Safety Research Institute (ASRI). Dr. Digges and ASRI did what GM refused to do and what DOT would not order – develop a safer fuel tank for the 4 million GM Firebomb pickups still on the road. In its defect investigation, NHTSA demonstrated that in a 50 mph angled side impact from a 4000# Chevrolet Caprice, the fuel tank of a C/K pickup would fail as shown in this video. Dr. Digges conducted a series of similar crash test of different fuel tanks using the 50 mph, 4000# Chevrolet Caprice test and determined an inside-the-frame fuel tank that was 50% thicker than the GM outside-the-frame tank and which had shielded steel fuel lines, and a filler neck check valve would readily pass the 50 mph, 4000# Chevrolet Caprice test as shown in this video.

The class action settlement also wisely provides a portion (up to $5) of every coupon sold by the Certificate Redemption Group up to $4 million must be allocated to ASRI to secure the mass production and distribution of a successful retrofit for the side saddle fuel tanks on the C/K pickups. By filing its appeal, GM has delayed mass production of the fuel tank.

People are dying while GM is delaying. By not honoring the class action certificates, GM is denying pickup owners access to technology that could save their lives. Hundreds of lives could have been saved if GM had followed the advice of its engineers years ago to install safe fuel systems. Instead, GM placed sales over safety and people died. Today, GM continues to place profits over safety and more people will die. We call on GM to stop the stonewalling, honor the class action certificates and authorize its dealers to install the ASRI retrofit tanks in its Rolling Firebombs.”