By on November 10, 2009

Screen shot 2009-11-10 at 9.16.36 AM

Gag. And sigh. I’d kinda hoped that New York Times would stay away from the FoMoCo-flavored Kool-Aid long enough to see the potential drawbacks to the automaker’s inflatable seat belt idea. Or at least provide a reasonably coherent and comprehensive argument for the overarching supposition that the brand’s dedication to passenger safety supersedes that of its rivals. But no. The original PR-release-based article in the Business section raises but one red flag: “Just 6 percent of respondents chose safety as their top priority.” And then the Freakonomics column—an endlessly self-aggrandizing advertisement masquerading as editorial—dumps a pound of sugar on the proceedings. “In SuperFreakonomics, we tell the story of how Robert Strange McNamara, an outsider at the Ford Motor Co., led the charge the put seat belts in automobiles at Ford. It was not a popular decision within the company nor with the public; pushing for a safety device in a car did a bit too good of a job of reminding people that cars could be quite unsafe. But McNamara got his way. Over time (a long time, it turned out), the seat belt won widespread adoption, saving roughly 250,000 lives in the U.S. alone since 1975 . . . Back in the day, Henry Ford II wasn’t crazy about McNamara’s seat-belt obsession. ‘McNamara is selling safety,’ he said, “but Chevrolet is selling cars.'” What does that tell you? The media’s hidden love affair with Ford continues apace.

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17 Comments on ““Is Ford Once Again Leading the Way in Auto Safety?”...”


  • avatar
    carguy

    If Ford weren’t innovating on safety I’m sure there would be a bunch of articles by armchair auto CEOs criticizing them for not taking the safety of their customers lives  seriously enough. I doubt that the inflatable airbag (and all the free press they got from it) will hurt Ford’s image or their ability to sell cars.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    What are the potential drawbacks of the inflatable seatbelt?  Does anyone here know how it works well enough to make a claim on how successful it would be?
     
    Unlike TTAC, I believe the NY Times is giving Ford the benefit of the doubt instead of going straight into criticism for a new technology.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Honda had inflatable seat belts over 10 years ago.
    And Ford’s “safety innovations” can be credited to Volvo.  Amazing what a five-finger discount will get you.

  • avatar
    ajla

    According to McNamara, there was an annual body count of  21 million from lack of seat belts in automobiles.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Just off the top of my head if asked to list domestic auto brands  in order of safest to most dangerous, I’d say Ford is #1, Chevy #2 and Dodge is a distant #3.  I think most Americans, those who don’t spend as much time thinking about cars as we do, would tend to think the same.

    I think it pays dividends for Ford.

  • avatar
    TomH

    Robert,
    Blind blathering doesn’t suit you.  I was looking for a coherent argument against either the air bag seat belts, but missed it.  (You allude to potential drawbacks, but fail to enumerate them.  Nifty debate tactic by the way, as there is no way to refute the claim.)    Are you channeling an extremist these days?
    On other outlets I did see how parents are using the current generation of rear seat belts incorrectly (and dangerously) due to the comfort issues addressed by the Ford belt.

  • avatar

    Steven02:
    Unlike TTAC, I believe the NY Times is giving Ford the benefit of the doubt instead of going straight into criticism for a new technology.
    A journalist’s job is to question everything. No one gets the benefit of the doubt. No one. Hard-nosed reporting this was not.
    TomH
    This blog post was not about the potential drawbacks of inflatable belts per se. (There are always downsides to new safety technologies.) It was about the cheerleading tone of the New York Times headline and copy.

    • 0 avatar
      TomH

      Robert,

      Your line “I’d kinda hoped that New York Times would stay away from the FoMoCo-flavored Kool-Aid long enough to see the potential drawbacks to the automaker’s inflatable seat belt idea.” implies that there are in fact negatives known to the author.  (i.e. What are you “seeing” that NYT is not?)   

      While you may see this as the rantings of a Ford fan boy, I assure you, the goal was to understand the problem with the seatbelt implied by the tone of your article.

      This is TTAC, no? 

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      The Freakonomics article was in the Opinion section.  Not really going to find hard nose journalism in there, more likely opinions.  The business article is pretty fair saying they are introducing a feature, it works like this, it will be available at this time, and cost roughly this much.  But most of all, I don’t see hard nosed journalism involving potential problems, but listing no problems.  Do you have any reason to believe that this seatbelt won’t work other than the fact that Ford is doing?
       
      By why not criticize Toyota since the Lexus LFA is going to have this too?

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    Robert,
    Thanks for not caving in to the irrational-exuberance-all-things-Ford crowd, and for continuing to be objective, instead.
    If I were an alien that landed on planet earth, having no prior knowledge of car brands and their inherent qualities, I probably would be fooled into thinking that Ford is:
    a) a highly and consistently profitable automaker.
    b) a company with a clean balance sheet.
    c) producing vehicles with industry leading reliability and performance attributes.
    d) producing vehicles mainly within the United States with largely U.S. sourced components.
    e) the only domestic automaker to shun taxpayer money.
    In fact, a through e are all false.
     

  • avatar
    Ion

    All this PR will blow up (Deploy?) in Ford’s proverbial face if Mercedes or Lexus can get their inflatable seatbelts to market first.

  • avatar
    jamie1

    Robert,

    The love affair is with a company that is out there making a concerted effort to make a difference. Your views on this technology are at odds with 100% of the media and, based on our feedback so far, 100% of consumers as well.

    Maybe, just maybe, you could see your way to praising Ford’s efforts to innovate rather than wish to see the worst in everything that Ford does. It is oh so easy to sit on the sidelines and throw barbed comments every time your inbox gets a press release. Much more difficult to actually look the evidence of a company really pulling out the stops to avoid the desparate situation that their competitors (both domestic and foreign) have found themselves in.

    We at Ford do not consider the job done by any means. We have a huge financial debt to service as well as loans to pay back. But by heck, we are making a good fist of it so far. None of us have a crystal ball, but I like where Ford is right now, and evidence of innovative thinking such as these inflatable belts show everyone that we are working our butts off to be different.

    Kind regards,

    Jay Ward
    Ford Communications

  • avatar
    jamie1

    a) a highly and consistently profitable automaker.
    b) a company with a clean balance sheet.
    c) producing vehicles with industry leading reliability and performance attributes.
    d) producing vehicles mainly within the United States with largely U.S. sourced components.
    e) the only domestic automaker to shun taxpayer money.

    Ohsnapback,

    At Ford we have never said that we have won the battle already. Just that we are maing considerable progress against our plan. You are right that the job is not done, but the evidence so far is overwhealmingly positive.

    We are managing our debt and working hard to pay it off. We are also going to pay back our loans unlike other companies (not just automotive – how about the banks while we are on the subject).

    Our quality is not perfect, but it is heading consistently in the right direction and you cannot fault us for that!

    We produce vehicles all over the world – we are a global company with global products. We are also in the business of profitable growth for all – you would hardly say that we should not pursue that aim and produce our cars where it makes most sense for the market in which we play.

    Finally, we did shun bail out money. We accepted government loans available to all auto manufacturers both domestic and foreign. We have committed to paying these back and I fail to see how we can be critisised for that. If everyone else pays back every penny that Uncle Sam has ‘loaned’ them, I will eat my Mustang and my Flex.

    Kind regards,

    Jay Ward
    Ford Communications

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    Mr. Jay Ward,
     
    I appreciate your your professionalism and sympathize with your role as the PR rep for Ford (it must be somewhat akin to being White House Press Secretary).
    However, you are stating the company line for Ford, as you are required to do so, and I do believe you are omitting key facts in your reply.
    One such fact that you are distorting is that Ford received no bailout funds, while you tacitly concede that Ford has received government largess nonetheless (in the form of billions from the DOE, among other such programs).
    Where I come from dollars are fungible, and Ford receiving money from taxpayer sourced programs, whether TARP or DOE derived, has nearly the same consequence to Ford and the taxpayers.
    My criticism of Ford is not born out of a desire to see Ford fail, but rather a desire to see Ford succeed. If a new generation of car buyers make the expensive decision to make a Ford their next new vehicle, and it disappoints, then Ford will have suffered another lost generation of car buyers to the competition.
    I remember when some wanted to shelter U.S. automakers from foreign competition, and while such a measure would have no doubt brought a short term gain, the insulation would have given the domestic automakers NO incentives to make their cars and trucks better in any way.
    Hopefully, Ford can get its pricing, build quality and reliability up to the levels (or better) of Honda.
    I, for one, am genuinely rooting for that day, but Ford is not there yet.

    • 0 avatar
      TomH

      Dollars are fungible, but amongst the US automakers, Ford alone did not utilize C11 or rely on the Auto-Politburo thuggery and bifurcation into Good/Bad Ford to erase debt and contractual obligations to dealers, creditors, unions and equity stakeholders.  To suggest that they are operating on the same financial plane as as GM and Chrysler is absurd.  (For that matter, so is trying to make VRA a Ford issue.)
      Back to your alien being, where did he bring the five point list with him from outer space?  No automaker on the planet would get “green” check-marks for all of those items.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I agree with TomH here.  The loans that Ford had are taxpayer funded.  But they are not even close to what GM and Chrysler did.  In fact, GM and Chrysler we denied the loans that Ford received because the DOE they were not viable companies.  These loans were incentives for an automaker to go green in the US.  Not that I agree the gov’t needs to subsidize this, but when they put out the subsidy, a business would have to be crazy not to take it.  And, if you ask the average taxpayer, they would not consider this the same as the bailouts that GM and Chrysler received.
      Furthermore, I completely agree that the 5 point list you have is completely false.  Name 1 major automaker that could qualify for that?  Take out e) to include the foreign makes, now who qualifies?  No one.


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