Hyprocrisy of the highest order

Forum Extra

November 14, 1991

THE ARTICLE by Walter Adams and James W. Brock ("Big Three stranglehold," Other Voices, Sept. 3) is hypocrisy of the highest order.

These long-time and knowledgeable observers of the automobile industry are well aware that no manufacturer has ever been successful in dictating to the customer, and that, in the final analysis, only those manufacturers who have responded to the customers' changing tastes have been successful. The first Henry Ford, the most successful by far of the original 2,000 or so automobile manufacturers, lost his position of leadership in the industry by attempting to limit customer choice to one body style painted in one color -- a hard-earned lesson that no one in the industry will ever overlook.

Contrary to the views expressed in the article, American manufacturers have always offered customers a wide variety of choices, including smaller cars. Customers generally have favored the larger cars -- cars which are inherently safer than the smaller vehicles. The reduced size and weight of the smaller cars make them more fuel-efficient, but at the cost of some degree of protection for the passengers which cannot be offset by any other means, including air bags.

In fact, and contrary to the statement in the article, General Motors never was "actively discouraging air bag sales" at any time. GM, uniquely among manufacturers, offered air bags for all front-seat occupants as an option on its larger cars in the mid-1970s at a price far below actual cost. At that time, GM could produce 100,000 cars a year equipped with such restraints but over a three-year period was able to sell only about 10,000 -- in spite of the bargain price and strong promotional efforts. In that regard, recognize that air bags are, at best, a supplemental restraint, and that safety belts remain the most effective means of passenger protection and should be used even when a car is equipped with air bags.

I find it surprising and distressing that your paper would lend credence to the distorted views of the professors. Better to commend the manufacturers for their continuing efforts to provide the widest variety and the safest vehicles at the lowest possible prices, and to preserve the customer's freedom to choose in the market place, not to have that choice limited by government edict.

Thomas A. Murphy

Bloomfield, Mich.

The writer is retired chairman of General Motors.

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