The production of the Chevrolet Corvair by General Motors began slightly over 50 years ago with the company’s designers and engineers looking for ways challenge European car makers such as VW who were flooding the American market. As such, the Corvair was seen as a ‘compact’ car design that could meet the intended purpose as most cars produced in the American market were larger in size than necessary.
The Corvair design was somewhat unconventional by engineering standards due to its flat-opposed air cooled engine that had an aluminum block with a factory-designed air conditioning system. It was a rear wheel drive with the 6-cylinder engine at the rear end of the car. The goals of the Corvair were to offer one with better traction due to the rear engine design, space efficiency due to its compact design and offer light unassisted steering.
The ethical issues surrounding the car were mainly safety issues for cars produced between 1960 and 1964. Corvair was designed to cut back costs involved in production with the aim of maximizing on profits. As such, the structural integrity of the car became compromised, a fact that General Motors designers and engineers knew was bound to occur. The company designers opted to remove the anti-rolling bar (front stabilizer bar) and replace it with swing axle suspension which was less stable. As such, the car had to gain stability by operating with tire pressures that were outside the recommended tolerances by tire manufacturers. This rendered the car prone to dangerous over-steer making it accident prone. The ethical issue that arise in this particular instance was the failure by the car manufacturer to disclose the tire pressure issues to both the car buyers and salespersons.
The Corvair can be considered to be a failure in engineering arising from a combination of factors such as management culture, incompetence, failure of the design process and ethical missteps. One of the tenets of the code of ethics of engineers explicitly states that engineers have a duty of ensuring that report any inappropriate risk that causes harm to others. This duty should even override the duties issue by the employer. However, the automotive engineers involved in the Corvair manufacture and design were unwilling to improve the car’s road safety features for fear that the price would go up thus locking out potential customers. In such a case, the manufacturer is able to ensure sales are constant but there is a greater safety risk to the customer.
The corvair also posed a threat to its drivers in other ways. It should be noted that the instruments and the interior panels reflected a lot of sunlight due to their glossy nature. As such, drivers could hit other cars on highways as the reflection hindered their visual acuity on the road. Another issue was the lack of adequate safety measures inside the car’s interiors. The side panels were not in any way padded and the columns for the steering wheel were rigid. In the event of an accident, the driver and the occupants would sustain serious injuries. Despite this information being available beforehand, it was ignored in the design phase and thus resulted in many unnecessary crashes thereafter. Accidents that could have been avoided. Therefore, the engineers and designers failed in their ethical role of ensuring that they act in the interest of the community.
It is evident that all these ethical problems arise from the fact that Corvair manufacturers wanted to save on costs and maximize on profits. As such, the safety features and structural integrity of the car was compromised leading to many accidents that resulted in lawsuits in the 1960s. The company also failed to disclose critical suspension issues to clients in fear that it would affect their sales targets. Aftermarket parts to clients that could have bought to help in stabilizing their cars were also not advertised. Therefore, General Motors failed in its ethical responsibilities to its clients. In order to solve the safety problems, the manufacturer should have increased the size of the rear suspension given that the car was a rear wheel drive and had the engine at the rear end. Secondly, they should have included the front stabilizer bar for better handling and stability. Finally, they should have increased the weight of the car on the front end by using thicker steel.
Niedermeyer, Paul. “In Defense Of: The Chevrolet Corvair”. The Truth About Cars. N.p., 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.