What started the safety frenzy according to a law firm’s publication was a book written by a consumer activist called Ralph Nader entitled Unsafe at Any Speed that put the spotlight on Corvair sportcar manufactured by General Motors (GM) (Willis Law Firm). That was what contributed to the coming into existence of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) that was given the authority to come up with standards to prevent and bring down the rate of death and injuries, as well as economic loss caused by automobile accidents because of vehicle malfunction.
What happened next was in 1975 a fuel efficiency standard called Cooperate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) was introduced in response to the rising gas price, whereby auto manufactures could face a fine if they do not meet what the standard requires. The standard was treating cars and trucks differently by being lenient on trucks because of their frequent off the road use.
It is this leniency the car manufacturers took advantage of and came up with vehicles called SUVs by classifying them as light trucks that did not only become very popular and cash generators for the manufacturers as it will be discussed below, they became very controversial because of their tendency to rollover even at a very slow speed of 20 miles an hour whenever they take a “J” turn or whenever they try to perform an evasive maneuver to come out of a gridlock or while trying to avoid objects on their path.
The first such light truck SUV that caught the attention of the public was Jeep CJ model and after its tendency to rollover became public knowledge its sales plummeted. That did not deter the other manufacturers from coming up with their own version and Ford introduced Bronco II based on the model of the Jeep CJ and it became an instant hit leading the company to sell up to 700,000 vehicles, double the number it intended to sell.
The problem was Bronoco II also was not immune from rollover as the vehicle tips into two wheels at a very low speed of 20 miles and would rollover.. While the controversy over the Bronoco II was unresolved, Ford came up with the Explorer, another SUV that became very popular. One of the reasons that contributed to that was the killing of CAFE Standards by congress in 1990 because of fear of the escalation oil price after Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
While the danger SUVs by their own were posing to the public remained unsolved, in 2000 there was another scandal created when Firestone’s radial Wilderness ATX tires that were selling with the Explorer direct from the factory started to explode and started causing damages. The number of complaints reached 90 that led to 33 crashes, 27 injuries and four death. That is when NHTSA had to launch a formal investigation (Business Week, 2001).