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Two members of the Tongan Royal Family, visiting the San Francisco area to discuss political reforms in their tiny South Pacific nation, stepped into a Ford Explorer for a short ride to a meeting with the Tongan community. Instead, because of decisions made by Ford executives, the Explorer gave the royals a ride to their deaths.
A teenage driver in a 1998 Ford Mustang on U.S. 101 in Menlo Park, California cut off the 1998 Explorer in which Prince Uluvala Tu’ipelehake and Princess Kaimana Tu‘ipelehake were passengers. The Mustang was going no more than 10 miles hour faster than the Explorer when it moved left into the Explorer’s lane and struck the bumper.

The Explorer swerved to the right, and the driver over-corrected, causing the Explorer to trip and roll, killing both passengers and their driver. The teen driver, Edith Delgado, was found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, and was sentenced to two years in county jail, but the Explorer was the real culprit.

Ford executives deserve jail time for the deaths of the Tongan visitors and the deaths of hundreds of others whose fates were sealed in Explorers.

Delgado cut off the Explorer and caused it to make a swerve to the right.  Then, as expected, the driver lost control of the Explorer when she jerked the wheel back to the left and the Explorer did what it was designed to do. It rolled on a flat level road.

The real proof of the Explorer’s instability is Delgado’s Mustang.

The Mustang suffered minor damage. I bought it and had it driven to my warehouse for storage as evidence in the lawsuit I filed against Ford on behalf of the Prince’s two sons.

Ford’s management knew that the Explorer would roll and kill people when they first marketed it in 1990. The Explorer was a replacement for the equally dangerous Bronco II, and Ford’s decision to sell a new model that was certain to cause deaths and horrific injuries continued a pattern of behavior that went back at least 20 years to the Pinto and its exploding gas tank.

Ford engineers told management the Explorer was unstable and had major handling flaws long before the first Explorer came off the assembly line, but Ford’s decision makers smelled big profits from the “First Mover” market position that the Explorer would give them.

As the executives hoped, they made their huge profits. As expected, Explorers rolled, people died, and continue to die.

In California alone, from 1990 to 2000, the Explorer earned Ford more than $2 billion in profits, and Dr. Alan Goedde, an expert witness, calculated the First Mover portion of the profits at between $383 million and $442 million.

Rollover problems began with the Explorer as soon as it hit the streets. Its center of gravity was too high and its wheelbase was too narrow. Every extra passenger raised the center of gravity even higher, making the vehicle even more unstable and the roof was not nearly strong enough to protect passengers when rollovers did occur.

Defective Firestone tires were a major contributing factor in many Explorer rollovers. Those tires frequently separated and caused Explorers to spin wildly out of control. Disintegrating tires caused severe personal injuries and deaths, but when Ford became aware of problems with tires, it approved replacement tires from other manufacturers that made the Explorer even more dangerous.

Knowing the risks that the Explorer presented, Ford never slowed its marketing efforts. Suburban housewives and city residents who thought they were driving the equivalent of a station wagon were placing their families in trucks that didn’t meet federal automobile safety standards. And when evidence showed that Explorers were killing and maiming people, Ford sent out its lawyers and PR people to attempt to cover up its misdeeds.

Despite all the deaths, injuries, and lawsuits, the Explorer is still on on a roll – literally. In government tests on the 2008 Explorer, it received only a 3 (of a possible 5) in rollover safety.

Henry Ford wouldn’t be happy with the profits-before-lives approach that his company has taken. Mr. Ford was a pacifist who once faced a lawsuit from his own shareholders because he was more interested in the welfare of his workers than in maximizing his profits.
Henry Ford was a socially responsible manager with a conscience.  We know what Henry would say about the Explorer if he were alive today.  Too bad his conscience is no longer at the helm.

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Richard Alexander