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Ralph Nader Inducted into Automotive Hall of Fame

Safety advocate changed the industry, saved "1,000s of lives."

by on Jul.22, 2016

Ralph Nader turned safety into a serious issue for the auto industry.

The man once accused of trying to destroy Detroit now has a permanent home in the Motor City.

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate credited with changing the way the auto industry operates with his critical book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” was one of four industry legends inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame on Thursday night, joining retired Ford CEO Alan Mulally, automotive engineer Roy Lunn and Bertha Benz, the wife and financier of pioneer Karl Benz.

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“There are thousands of people who would be dead if it weren’t for Ralph Nader,” said publisher Keith Crain as he introduced the 82-year-old Nader to an audience of industry managers and executives gathered for the black tie affair.


50 Years Later: Are Cars Still “Unsafe at Any Speed”?

Ralph Nader’s book showed that safety does matter.

by on Dec.01, 2015

Ralph Nader testifies before Congress in 1966. It was 50 years ago this week that his groundbreaking book, "Unsafe at Any Speed," was published.

For decades, conventional wisdom in the auto industry held that “safety doesn’t sell.” And that certainly appeared to be the case when an unknown Washington attorney began looking into reports of problems with the then-popular Chevrolet Corvair.

What Ralph Nader uncovered led to the publication of the groundbreaking book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” 50 years ago this week. And it resulted in a major shift in thinking by both the American public and the auto industry that has led to significant improvements in vehicle safety and a huge decline in highway fatalities.

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As many 3.5 million Americans would have been killed over the past half-century had Nader’s muckraking work not led to the passage of the first highway safety laws and the dramatic changes in vehicle design and technology that followed, according to a new study by the Center for Auto Safety. (more…)

Automakers Launching Ad Campaign Attacking 56.2 MPG Proposal

Industry radio spots to warn of threat to economic recovery.

by on Jul.18, 2011

Will the ads sway consumers in favor of industry concerns or rally support for higher mileage standards?

The auto industry is going on the attack – a trade group launching a radio campaign this week aimed at shooting down the big increase in federal fuel economy standards being proposed by the White House.

The 60-second commercials, produced for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, will argue that boosting the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards to 56.2 mpg in 2025 “threatens (the) progress” of the auto industry’s fragile recovery – and could force Americans out of the big cars and trucks they love and into small, limited-use electric vehicles.

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The industry campaign could present another headache to the Obama Administration, which is currently focused on hammering out a compromise with the Republicans on a bill to increase the nation’s debt ceiling.  But the automotive alliance also risks alienating consumers who are worried about the impact of near-record fuel prices and who, surveys show, are demanding big increases in fuel economy.  Mileage, a senior Ford official last week acknowledged, is the single most important concern for most American car buyers this summer.

But the Alliance ads will target an equally serious public concern: jobs.  A recent study by the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research warned that such a big increase in the federal mileage requirements could tack up to $10,000 onto the price tag for the typical American automobile.  In turn, the CAR study warned, that could reduce by a third total American car sales and cost hundreds of thousands of auto industry jobs in the U.S.

The industry ads will launch Tuesday and air in seven markets, notably including Michigan and Washington, D.C.

The copy proclaims that, “After tough times, today’s automobile industry is on a highway to recovery.”  But it warns that the proposed increase in fuel economy “threatens that progress” and might not only result in sharply higher prices, but also in an “electric car mandate.”

Not everyone agrees with the industry’s contention.  Environmental groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have argued that the automakers are using scare tactics – the same moves that kept fuel economy rules from increasing through much of the ‘90s and first decade of the new millennium.

They also are criticizing the industry for talking about a turnaround that, for at least some makers, was taxpayer-funded. “We give GM billions of dollars, and what do taxpayers get in return? Opposition to a process that will clearly save them income and give them improved cars,” said consumer activist Ralph Nader.

Proponents of a sharp increase in federal mileage standards have their own data to point to, a new study by the Boston Consulting Group that predicted the industry could achieve big gains for just about $2,000 a vehicle – a figure the study’s authors noted would readily be recovered on fuel savings – especially if gas prices continue to rise.

Unsafe At Any Cost?

Ralph Nader questions Toyota’s R&D claims.

by on Oct.18, 2010

The young Ralph Nader testifying before Congress a half-century ago. He is now weighing in on R&D spending claims by Toyota.

The man who helped launched the auto safety movement by challenging General Motors is now taking on the company that has taken over as the world’s largest automaker.

Ralph Nader is challenging Toyota to explain claims it is spending $1 million an hour on R&D, a figure it is using in an ad campaign aimed at overcoming concerns about a year-long safety scandal.  By Nader’s calculations that works out to a whopping $8.7 billion annually.

The ad campaign, which was first launched in June, appears to link that spending specifically to the problems facing Toyota, proclaiming, “At Toyota, we care about your safety. That’s why we’re investing one million dollars every hour to improve our technology and your safety.”

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“That is an astonishing amount, compared to your industry peers, to be spent on safety R&D,” Nader says, in a letter sent to Jim Lentz, head of Toyota’s U.S. sales subsidiary.


Veteran Of The Car Safety Wars Speaks Out

The Toyota safety and quality fiasco is an enigma.

by on Feb.22, 2010

Nader's polemic, Unsafe At Any Speed, a clear exaggeration, led to significant safety reforms.

Even as a grizzled veteran of the car safety wars that began with the publication of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed in the mid-1960s, I find it hard to fathom how Toyota has fallen into the mess it finds itself in.

Toyota has benefited from a carefully nurtured reputation for quality and reliability over the last three decades. Unlike domestic manufacturers, Toyota was one of the first to go to longer warranties as the Detroit Three – claiming equivalent quality – stuck with far shorter ones that were less expensive for them, but not their customers.

Toyota also went the extra mile for its customers, quietly fixing out-of-warranty complaints. Critics called these “secret warranties” – although Toyota never was caught at it – and indeed, they were, but they helped build Toyota’s reputation and enviable,money-making owner loyalty.

In Detroit, lawyers and quarterly-finance-report-driven bean counters ruled the roost, rigidly enforcing warranty limits, blithely enduring the wrath of owners who, feeling short-changed, fell into the arms of auto companies backing their products for the longer term.


This is not just speculation. My bride of 20 years ago owned a new Camry, an otherwise fine car that, however, eventually suffered from rusting quarter panels and failing $500 exhaust systems. We learned that Toyota had beyond-warranty “customer satisfaction” programs that covered these flaws. In the case of the exhaust system, we did not find this out until the second set of pipes and mufflers failed.

Well Publicized Safety Issues of the Past

Nevertheless, what about the big safety issues of those past decades? As noted, the first was Nader’s attack on the rear-engine Chevrolet Corvair introduced in 1959. His legal argument was that the car handled differently than front-engine cars, therefore typical American drivers were unsafe driving them. Of course, VW, Renault and Porsche also were rear-engine, but at the time their manufacturers were far away, their pockets shallow and their numbers few.

Along with most other auto writers then, I loved the Corvair’s neat handling and fascinating features.   (more…)

Jay Leno May Have Moved On. Ralph Nader Hasn’t

Nader injects himself into the debate over the future of General Motors and other automakers.

by on May.19, 2009

Ralph Nader, courtesy of the Nader for Presdent Campaign

Ralph Nader is still running for office.

In a letter to Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank consumer advocate Ralph Nader called on the Senate and House banking committees to hold “thorough” hearings to protect taxpayers’ investments and to seek answers to several questions about President Barack Obama’s Auto Task Force. Nader wants to know:

– Is the Task Force right in pushing for elimination of as many brands, as it has demanded?

– Is the Task Force asking for too many plants to close?

– Do GM and Chrysler really need to close as many dealerships as announced?

– Is the logic of closing dealers to enable the remaining dealers to charge higher prices; and if so, why is the government facilitating such a move?

– Is it reasonable and fair for GM to impose liability for disposing of unsold cars on dealers with which it severs relations, as Chrysler has apparently done?

– Has the Task Force evaluated the social ripple effects on suppliers, innovation, dealers, newspapers, banks and others that hold company stock and/or are company creditors, and other unique harms that might stem from bankruptcy?    (more…)