March 10, 2003

SUVs - Suddenly Upside-down Vehicles: Part II: Disappearing Documents

Before a single vehicle rolled off the assembly line, Ford executives at the highest level knew that the Bronco II SUV was unsafe, and would roll over, injure and potentially kill a significant number of the people who bought it.

In a highly unusual move, prior to production of the Bronco II, the Ford Office of General Counsel (which reports to the CEO and Board of Directors) collected all the documents related to the testing of the Bronco II.  On July 27, 1982, right after the Engineering Department signed off on the Bronco II, the Office of General Counsel began its document roundup .

Comprehensive identification of documentation of matters pertaining to Bronco II Handling has been requested by OGC. In order to establish what documentation is present in the files, please establish a list of documents which may have any bearing on Bronco II Handling, including a discussion of track width and vehicle height.

On August 3, 1982, at the request of the Office of General Counsel, Ford engineers began to collect all documents related to the testing and design of the Bronco II. Ford engineers testified that this round up was "unusual" and that all the documents went to the Office of General Counsel. Ford’s Office of General Counsel instructed the engineers to review each document related to the Bronco II and "sanitize" each document, including making additions or edits, if necessary, before turning the documents over to the legal department.

Engineers were ordered to
“sanitize” documents

Disappearing Documents

After collecting, reviewing, and "sanitizing" the Bronco II documents, the Ford engineers turned the documents over to the Office of General Counsel. Even more troubling than this pre-production document round up is that fact that out of the 113 documents collected and stored by Ford’s Office of General Counsel, 53 documents mysteriously disappeared while in the custody of Ford’s attorneys. One of the missing documents was a "product change request form," a standard Ford form whereby engineers request a modification to a proposed product. In this instance, the product change form apparently requested a two inch widening of the Bronco II track. Even though such a document would require many layers of sign off, it simply disappeared. Another document that disappeared was an attachment to a memo entitled "Seven Risk Factors", which detailed risks associated with the design of the Bronco II.

Graphical Pull Quote

In January 1983, a few months after this document round up, Ford manufactured and began to sell the first of 700,000 Bronco II SUVs. An additional 3.7 million Ford Explorers, with only modestly reduced rollover potential, were sold between 1990 and 2001.

Ford did not turn over these development documents, development testing results, or information about the cancellation of test drivers to the National Transportation and Safety Highway Administration (NTSHA) during the 1988-90 investigation of the safety of the Bronco II. The NTSHA requested the following from Ford:

Furnish the number and copies of all owner reports, ... investigations, memoranda, and other records from all sources either received or authorized by Ford, or which Ford is otherwise aware, pertaining to (a) rollover, stability or similar performance or (b) the subject alleged defects of the Bronco II ... (c) any information Ford may have comparing the Bronco II's stability factor (center of gravity height) with other motor vehicles.

Identify the parties involved and describe any and all tests and analyses at (1) Ford, ... or subject alleged defects, or (b) used to establish the stability of the Bronco II... Furnish copies of all reports, notes, tables, graphs, film, photographs, or similar documentation which were developed for each.

Furnish a copy of all documents not specifically requested which Ford believes are pertinent to the alleged defects and the resolution of the alleged defects, or were used in formulating its assessment of the alleged defects.

Ford said that it “didn’t notice ” that NTSHA asked for Bronco II development data.