A book was released in 1965 that changed the automobile industry forever. Written by Ralph Nader, a little known lawyer from Hartford, CT, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile was the title. The subject material was a critical look at the auto industry and how it viewed its responsibility to build safe automobiles.
A focus on the Corvair
As Humes Chrysler of Waterford, PA, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer explained to us, Nader’s book is often tied to an extremely critical review of the Corvair, a rear-engine, air-cooled compact car made in the 1960s by Chevrolet. While Unsafe at Any Speed did focus on the Corvair, the book was really an indictment of the entire industry. Worst of all, the book illuminated the concept that most automotive executives did not seem terribly concerned about most of the dangerous issues involved. It just wasn’t a priority in the industry.
The book became an immediate bestseller but also prompted a vicious backlash from General who attempted to discredit Nader by tapping his phone in an attempt to uncover unsavory information and, when that failed, hiring prostitutes in an attempt to document him in a compromising situation that could be publicized.
Not so “Good for General Motors”
The book vaulted Nader into a highly visible legal career of questioning the motives behind the policy and practice of the entire automotive industry. It would be safe to say that Unsafe at Any Speed threw water on the once famous comment by a General Motors executive Charles Irwin Wilson that “What is good for General Motors is good for America.”
After Unsafe at Any Speed was released, a great deal of change in the automotive industry occurred. It was painful at the time but as the decades since show, the auto industry actually profited. By pushing for safety technology that all of the American carmakers were eventually forced to adopt, the automotive manufacturers potentially saved millions of dollars in future lawsuits and thousands of lives. Here’s a fact to consider: In 1980, 23 people out of 100,000 died annually in car crashes. Today, thanks to hundreds of federal safety regulations, the rate is less than 10 per 100,000. That works out to some 400 lives a year being saved.
Nader is still concerned, though
Nader recently commented that he was terribly concerned that the auto industry is losing focus again. “The auto industry wants to turn the car into an entertainment center” he states. Nader is especially concerned that all the multitasking that occurs in today’s gadget-laden cars can be distracting. He doesn’t see why all these gadgets are necessary and Nader calls upon the industry to resist this and focus on the safety of cars.