TRAGIC INDIFFERENCE: One Man's Battle with the Auto Industry over the Danger of SUVs

Adam L. Penenberg, Author
Adam L. Penenberg, Author . Harper Business $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-009058-6
Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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In a stinging invective, journalist Penenberg outlines the ethical failures and calculated improprieties of two principal automotive-industry companies, along with the struggle of attorney Tab Turner to hold them accountable. Already an established consumer-rights lawyer, Turner began to focus on Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone Wilderness tires in the mid to late 1990s, when the number of cases in which the tread separated from a tire and resulted in an often fatal rollover accident began to become significant. Penenberg uses Turner's involvement in the case of Donna Bailey, who was paralyzed in such an accident in Texas in 2000, as the framework for his book. As Turner investigates further, Penenberg paints a picture of an automaker trying to dominate the lucrative SUV market despite known stability flaws with its signature model in the class, and of a tire manufacturer willing to sacrifice the integrity of its products in order to fulfill the wishes of its biggest client. The writing and structure of the book are somewhat formulaic, as the chief concern is the reportage. Penenberg is also so strident in his tone and puts the companies in such a harsh light that it almost makes one wonder if this is an accurate portrayal, but he offers extensive endnotes from an array of sources to back up his claims. It's a comprehensive and disturbing book, and perhaps its ultimate validation is that Ford and Firestone, which had done business for nearly 100 years, broke ties, and Ford agreed not only to settle Bailey's case for tens of millions of dollars but also to have executives videotaped at her hospital bedside as they offered condolences. (Dec.)

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