Nissan began producing its Sentra line of cars in 1982, selling them under different names globally since 1982. A crash test between the 2015 Mexican variant (Tsuru) and the 2014 American variant was conducted, with the Tsuru being found to be vastly inferior due to its lack of airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. The Tsuru has been involved in approximately 4000 car-related deaths in Mexico since 2007; despite this it still meets Mexican car safety regulations. The video of the test crash is linked below.
The Justification of Selling the Tsuru
In 1960 the Mexican government stated that all vehicles to be sold in Mexico must be assembled within the country – the intention behind this was to promote growth within Mexico’s automotive industry. This legislation forced car manufacturers to build factories within Mexico to access the market, creating jobs and stimulating Mexico’s economy.
According to the new laws, individual parts for the vehicles could still be imported from other countries.
The existing manufacturing capability within Mexico was not as advanced as other countries. To produce components that adhered to safety standards similar to that of Europe and the U.S.A, a large investment into infrastructure was required, taking place over an extended time period while manufacturers established their production facilities.
These manufacturers therefore opted to design and build vehicles that could be assembled from more easily manufactured components, while still meeting the (albeit lower) Mexican vehicle safety regulations. The Tsuru itself is made from stamped steel panels, and can easily be assembled by an unskilled workforce. These factors kept the production cost low, therefore meaning the car could be sold at a lower price.
Since the country’s economic crisis in 1990, the amount of people in poverty in Mexico has been steadily rising, reaching 53.2% in 2014. If Nissan only offered their more expensive, safer models during this period, most Mexicans would have been unable to afford a vehicle. In 2017, the average household income in Mexico was $9,040, significantly lower than the US average of $56,810. Because of this, a direct comparison between the cars aimed at the lowest earners in each of the two countries is unlikely to be accurate. For Mexico’s needs, the lower price meant that the car was affordable for a large proportion of the population, who would otherwise be unable to purchase a car. A lack of affordable vehicles would have a negative impact on Mexico’s economy and therefore cause a decrease in the standards of living for its citizens.
Nissan’s engineers ensured that the vehicle met the Mexican government’s vehicle safety regulations at the time of manufacture, as well as keeping the cost of the vehicle low enough to be affordable for the majority of the population. It can be seen as an ethical decision to meet the needs of the population, rather than refusing to produce the vehicle due to safety concerns. The decision to accept the lower safety standards was therefore the customer’s decision, and the popularity of the Tsuru shows that the practicality of owning a car outweighed the safety concerns for a large number of Mexicans and justifies Nissan’s actions.
The Ethical Argument Against Selling the Tsuru
There are no legal issues with the sale of the Nissan Tsuru in Mexico. To say that because of this it is ethical, however, is to imply that the law is put into place to ensure people behave in an ethical manner. This is very clearly not the case. Creating a set of laws that enforce completely ethical behaviour from citizens and businesses would be an impossible task; not only due to the sheer number of laws that would need to be written, but also because of morally grey areas, such as euthanasia. Because of this, it is up to the companies themselves to ensure that the decisions they make are ethical, as the judgement cannot be deferred.
Nissan is a global corporation, which sells cars across the world. They have in-depth knowledge of the newest vehicle regulations and the safety of their cars past and present. The Nissan Tsuru sold in Mexico was very outdated by any measure. European and American regulations have vastly improved since 1991, when the current design of Tsuru was first manufactured, and the Tsuru would not be eligible for sale there. Despite knowing that the model was unsafe according to contemporary regulations, Nissan still kept it on sale in Mexico, prioritising access to a profitable market instead of the safety of its customers.
When analysing Nissan’s behaviour using Kantian ethics, one can conclude that their actions were unethical. As a car manufacturer, their duty is to produce vehicles that ensure the safety of the driver. However, instead of respecting the goals of human beings (namely, to live happily and safely), they prioritised their own objectives by exploiting a less well-developed market to increase their profits.
Further consideration of Kantian principles also leads to the conclusion that the only ethical route Nissan could have taken would have been to do nothing – even if the company had somehow managed to make a financially viable, structurally safe car model for the Mexican market, their motives for doing so would have been to maximise their revenue, not because it was their moral duty.
Lastly, when considering Nissan’s actions using utilitarianism ethics, one can again conclude that the company acted unethically – their vehicle design has been responsible, either directly or indirectly, for thousands of injuries and deaths in Mexico since the first Tsuru went on sale, which has led to the unhappiness and suffering of many Mexicans. This far outweighs the benefits that a cheap automobile has brought to the Mexican population.
It is difficult to decide which party is most responsible in this case, and whether the Nissan Tsuru should have been produced. Nissan knowingly produced vehicles that were recognized to be unsafe, but the Mexican government set the original safety standards. Consumers in Mexico were also aware of the safety performance rating of the Tsuru model and chose to purchase it anyway.