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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The battery could emit hydrogen if overcharged, further
contaminating the interior.
- 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.
- The rear engine, rear suspension combination was prone to "tuck
under" under certain conditions.
- 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.
- The automatic transmission had no "P" position.
More general concerns ca. 1960:
- Interior panels and instruments were glossy and reflective of
- Prior research on passenger protection in a crash was ignored.
Steering columns were rigid, panels were not padded, and so on.
- Body shapes and styles and ornamentation was dangerous to