Automakers Are Companies and Don’t Care About You

Just like children who pledged allegiance to the flag before they started their school day, a number of grown adults are brand faithfuls who pledged their hard-earned dollars to a cause they believed is theirs to fight. For whatever reason, they are still steadfast in their belief that their brand is the best, their truck is better than all others and their car is the most reliable piece of transportation since God invented feet.
Yet, if there’s one thing that the last week, last month, last year, or even the last decade has taught us it’s that companies, specifically automakers, do not care about us. Not one bit.
Allow me to explain.

A piece published yesterday by Bloomberg called out Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on its failure to declare a defect in its highly embedded uConnect system found in 1.4 million cars and trucks to the NHTSA. While the defect itself, detailed by Wired late last month, thankfully wasn’t exploited between the time FCA first identified the issue and when they reported it (only after the Wired article went public), the situation is just one of many where a corporation chooses a financially advantageous route over that of the safety of its customers.
And FCA isn’t the only one.
Just this week, Ford was fingered for not putting reinforcing metal bars on regular and extended cab F-150 pickups — models that wouldn’t normally be tested by the IIHS — that are a primary component in Ford’s best-selling pickup truck taking home a “Good” crash-test rating. The IIHS only requests automakers provide their volume seller for testing. In the F-150’s case, the crew cab model is the best seller, the only cab configuration fitted with these particular reinforcement bars.
To say Ford went out of its way to game the IIHS crash test might be a leap too far, but to say Ford’s cost analysis of adding a part weighed against the possibility of a lawsuit when someone is seriously injured or killed in an accident is not far fetched. After all, if a person in a crash doesn’t even know their vehicle is missing something, how could they even think of suing?
Yet, these recent antics are, by far, not the worst safety-related shenanigans to hit our industry in recent years. Honestly, neither is the ignition switch debacle still being handled by GM.
No, the worst one I can remember — at least over the last few years — included GM and a little rental car agency called Enterprise.
Back in 2009, Enterprise purchased some 66,000 Impalas from General Motors without side airbags — the same side airbags that were standard equipment if you bought the car yourself from the showroom floor. Enterprise saved an estimated $11.5 million USD ($175 on each car) with that one change and General Motors was more than willing to oblige as they took a nice, big bite out of the fleet business pie. That move in itself isn’t noteworthy, but what the rental car company did with many of those Impalas after they reached their rental life spans is: They sold those airbag-less Impalas to unsuspecting customers advertised with equipment lists stating the cars did, in fact, have side airbags.
From CBS News:
“There’s definitely a glitch in the system,” Enterprise’s vice president for corporate communications told The Star after the paper asked about the Web postings. “We’ll make it right with our customers. … None of this is intentional.”
What did Enterprise do in the end? For the vehicles that eventually ended up as privately owned vehicles, the rental car company offered to buy them back for $750 more than the Kelley Blue Book price at the time. According to Enterprise, only 745 vehicles ended up in private hands. Doing some incredibly conservative math means Enterprise was still ahead by roughly $10 million.
If you ever wanted an example of a company weighing cost vs. customer safety, well, there it is.
Just like Enterprise and GM back in 2009, Ford and FCA see these problems as being non-issues … until they’re caught red handed.
FCA has recalled the 1.4 million affected cars — against their will, I might add — and will need to mail out patches or have customers visit local dealers. Remember, this is all happening as FCA looks at a record-setting $105 million infraction ticket for its historical recall performance, or lack thereof.
Ford has flooded the blogosphere today with news that the F-150 will now come with a sport button. Yes, that’s right, a fucking sport button. Try Googling “Ford F-150″ today and it’s as if Crashgate never happened.
So, next time to pledge your donation to the My Favorite Brand club, remember this: You might care about them, but they only care about one thing from you — and it isn’t your life.
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