Notable Ethics Failures

Corvair Safety Lapses

The corvair was a car produced by General Motors, Chevrolet division, from 1959 to 1969. Up to that time, most US cars were larger than necessary. However, the popularity of the VW beetle proved that a market for compact cars existed and was substantial. The corvair was one of the first US automaker offerings to compete in this category. Its engineering was highly unconventional. It had an aluminum block, flat-opposed air-cooled engine in the rear producing from 80 to 180 HP depending on the model. It even had factory air conditioning! It was quite popular and reached sales of over 200,000 units for several years. It was named Motor Trends "car of the year" for 1960.

Safety issues:

  1. Heat for passengers came from air that was directly passed over the cylinders of the engine. Thus, the passengers were exposed to the possibility of inhaling engine fumes (carbon monoxide) in the case of gasket failures, for example.
  2. The engine design suffered from a bad choice of pushrod tube sealant which causes chronic oil leakage. This further contaminated the air inside the vehicle when the heater was operating.
  3. The engine was a mix of aluminum block and steel cylinders. The different expansion rates of these material caused gaps at joints and resulted in oil leaks.
  4. The battery could emit hydrogen if overcharged, further contaminating the interior.
  5. Most of the above were known well before the corvair was designed: many American cities' taxi regulations had prohibited air-cooled engine cars from being used as taxicabs when they derived their heated air from engine exhaust heat, decades before the corvair.
  6. The rear engine, rear suspension combination was prone to "tuck under" under certain conditions.
  7. The required tire pressures were unusual: 15 psi in front, 26 psi in back when cold so tires needed to be inflated to a pressure outside of manufacturers' tolerances.
  8. The automatic transmission had no "P" position.

More general concerns ca. 1960:

  1. Interior panels and instruments were glossy and reflective of sunlight.
  2. Prior research on passenger protection in a crash was ignored. Steering columns were rigid, panels were not padded, and so on.
  3. Body shapes and styles and ornamentation was dangerous to pedestrians.