Nissan Tsuru After Crash

The Emerging Disparity In Car Safety Regulations Between Countries

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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

Nissan Tsuru Before CrashIn 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

Nissan Tsuru After Crash
The 2014 Nissan Sentra (silver) and the 2015 Nissan Tsuru (red) just after impact.

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.

Concluding Remarks

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.

60 thoughts on “The Emerging Disparity In Car Safety Regulations Between Countries

  1. great article! Makes you wonder why Mexico’s government have not increased their safety regulations to be in line with other countries. Nissan should do more to ensure their cars are safe and affordable, if not the government should force them to through regulations.

    1. But to increase the safety of the cars things like reinforced body shells, air bags and crumple zones would need to be implemented. This will increase the price of the vehicle

    2. The lack of regulation may be a factor in attracting manufacturers to mexico in the first place. However, Now that large numbers of car manufacturers are based there, the regulations should be increased again. A global set of car standards may help with this

  2. Some very interesting points raised. The high death rate involving this car in Mexico sounds high, clearly indicating there are safety issues with the vehicle, it would be interesting to maybe see this figure relative to other car models for comparison. I agree with what you’re saying in the conclusion about there being no clear party who is most at fault. There are obviously legal requirements set by the state and ethical requirements set by Nissan that were both not up to scratch. Joint responsibility in my eyes.

  3. Great article with very interesting points brought up. It is shocking to see that the Mexican government has supported the production of Tsuru. While the production of these cars aid the local economics, nothing is worth risking the people’s lives. Owning vehicles should not be prioritised over safety. Although it can be argued that consumers were warned about the safety performance of the car, it is reasonable for people to have a certain level of trust in it since it is approved by the government, hence I think it is irresponsible for parties to have pushed the liability to the consumers.

    1. Yes, it can be argued that the customers were warned, the issue is that they are given very little choice. The lack of safety features allows the car to be so cheap, But the manufacturers aren’t incentivised to make a cheap car that does have all the safety features.

  4. Dangerous cars are bad.

    I would have been curious to read more of your thoughts on the ethical implications of Mexico’s import ban in a wider international trade context as well as in the knowledge that it would surely lead to scenarios such as those described. Is it ever ethical for one nation to promote the needs of its own citizens and economy over those of the wider global economy?

    I suppose this is what you get what with Brexit!

      1. Excuse me but I think you’ll find the democratic WILL OF THE PEOPLE will always be relevant to discussions of international trade. History will look unkindly on those who attempt to frustrate DEMOCRACY!!!!!

    1. Surely, it is the aim of any government to promote the needs of it’s own economy over the wider global community? No government would be elected into office if they didn’t. Yes, helping out on an international scale is a noble aim, but it will always be secondary to the needs of their own people.

      It can be argued that it would be unethical for the government to look out for the international community first, as all the other countries already have a government supposedly looking after them economically; thus leaving their own people without support

    1. Have you not thought about people who may need to own a car? for example taking kids to school and getting to work? Yes public transit is an ideal solution to this, but in poorer countries such as Mexico, this infrastructure is severely lacking.

  5. My first response on reading the title was “Ooh, this looks interesting” A good start.

    “The Tsuru has been involved in approximately 4000 car-related deaths in Mexico since 2007;”
    There are ~124m people in Mexico.

    Looking at

    We can see that there has been about 20,000 deaths in the UK in the last ten years due to vehicle accidents. There are ~61m people in the UK.

    Obviously, the figures for the Tsuru are for just one car, and the figures for the UK are for every make of vehicle. However, are these figures for the Tsuru exceptionally high?

    Another question, if I lived in southern California (*pauses for a moment*) could I go over the border buy a Tsuru and return to the US with it and legally drive it?

    This is a great article and please don’t take my comments as disparaging.

    Who are the stakeholders here?
    The Mexican government, who have a motivation to do what is best for Mexico.
    The Mexican people, who want/need cars.
    Nissan Mexico – who want to sell cars.

    Did the Mexican government act correctly by setting lower safety standards? Presumably they did so on the grounds that this meant more affordable vehicles?

    Did the Mexican population have a choice? Are there safer vehicles at an equivalent cost? Did they know the issues with The Tsuru before buying?

    Did Nissan Mexico do the right thing by meeting the Mexican safety standards? Were there simple/cheap things they could have done to improve safety that would have kept the overall price low?

    There’s a lot of parallels to the Ford Pinto case here. Similarly, there’s the issue of a Nissan engineer working in Mexico. How do they justify their decisions?

  6. I think the manufacturer should be held to account. The standards set by the government are the minimum standards after all and companies could import safer components. It seems the companies are just making a fast buck at the expense of peoples safety.

    Perhaps there should be an international standard for car safety?

    1. Implementing an international safety standard would be difficult. each country will have different requirements such as climate, road quality, congestion etc. How can you reach an agreement with such variation in needs

    2. There is indeed an international car safety organisation, going by the name of NCAP Global. They have sub-divisions for individual regions, such as the Euro NCAP and the Latin NCAP. They test cars for pedestrian and passenger safety and provide consistent scores out of 5 on a number of factors.

      Currently this is a charity organisation, and no manufacturer is required to meet any standards set by them, though this would be a good place to start.

  7. This was an interesting case study, in an area I’d not really considered before. I broadly agree with your utilitarian assessment, although it does lead to the uncomfortable idea of putting a price on human life: how much extra GDP is 4000 extra deaths worth?

    I find your Kantian argument a bit confusing. Are you making the claim that a company can never act ethically, because their core function is to make money? Surely companies are set up by people and have, or at least claim to have, values. And if you believe that a company can never act in accordance with Kantian ethics, why even bother viewing Nissan’s actions through that lens.

    Overall, this article does raise some interesting questions and I like the discussion about regulation versus over-regulation

  8. It is sad to see so many deaths occurring from car safety when it is a problem so easily rectified. It makes me wonder whether Nissan should have perhaps sacrificed aesthetics or aerodynamics rather than safety in order to cut costs. I also sometimes wonder whether a universal car safety standard should be implemented, although the practicality of this is questionable. Great article, well done!

    1. In this case Nissan sacrificed well developed manufacturing processes such as automated seem and spot welding for manual welding and fixture assembly. This was due to the lack of existing infrastructure and skilled personnel at the time. As the car industry has become much more established in Mexico recently, perhaps improved manufacturing processes will improve vehicle safety

    2. I share your concerns on the practicality of a universal safety standard. After all each countries requirements will be affected by factors such as climate

    3. There is indeed an international car safety organisation, going by the name of Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Program)

      Currently this is a charity organisation, and no manufacturer is required to meet any standards set by them, though this would be a good place to start.

    4. I agree that it is particularity upsetting to see this problem.
      I think it is safe to assume after a brief look at the Tsuru however that aesthetics and aerodynamics were equally not paid any attention during the design.
      I agree that a universal car safety standard would be ideal, unfortunately i imagine very few countries would agree on all of the requirements, additionally very different requirements could be possible between countries. for example different climates or road types!

  9. Interesting article. It would have been good to have more context to the issue. 4000 deaths is a lot, but how does this compare with vehicles also for the same sector? Are all of the vehicles in that sector of the market as bad as each other, or is the Nissan particularly bad?

    Looking at the images of the tsuru, it looks like a typical 90s car, I imagine that Nissan has simply perpetuated the old design as it still meets the standards. In Europe crash worthiness standards have come a long way, 10 years ago a euro NCAP 3 star car was seen as good, now if you see the result of a test on one you would call it a death trap, the social acceptability of a less safe car has reduced dramatically.

    However it appears that Mexico has not experienced this change in attitudes and therefore I would suggest that both the Mexican government and Nissan are both to blame for a 25 year old design still being sold there.

    1. The car does indeed seem to be very similar to older models from more developed countries. One point of interest is that a large amount of the cost for newer safety features is in the development of the new technologies and research that is required. This is generally made up in the cost of new cars on the market. Would it therefore be ethical to include these technologies in a car without including the overheads for technology development? how old would the systems need to be before you stopped considering this?

  10. A great article with quite a few interesting points raised. I agree with the final conclusion that both parties for this case are in the wrong, as the Mexican Government mustn’t let the safety of their citizens be comprised for the desire of economic growth. However, Nissan is also in the wrong as they will have understood that the car they were making was unsafe and such would have been an ethical decision by Nissan part to sell that car. Instead they should have reflected upon their companies vision of ‘enriching people’s lives’ by providing a car that is safe for the people of mexico and not one that is easily accessible for the low-income.

    1. I Agree with your point entirely. The main concern with the issue, though, is which party should be the ones to change? Both Nissan and the Mexican government have made some changes to the situation, but only due to the large public outcry surrounding this issue. A decision must be made as to who is at fault so this issue can be avoided in the future.

    2. While i agree that the citizens safety should not be compromised in exchange for making money, i believe that access to a motor vehicle is still a benefit to the customer and therefore achieves the objective of “enriching peoples lives”

  11. As well as duty and happiness could you not also consider purpose? Aristotle argues a good thing is one that fulfills its purpose so do you think Nissan were focusing on purpose by creating maybe a slightly less safe car but one that the public could afford? You don’t mention how safe it is to walk in mexico? is there good pedestrian acccess or could it be that a slightly less safe car is a lot safer than walking? At which point isn’t the car fulfilling its purpose at being safer and affordable? It may not be the safest car but it may be the only option. Additionally the customers now the safety issues when buying the car so doesn’t that then make the buyer responsible rather than the company?

    Personally I don’t think duty should come into it. You mention yourselves it would make any profit driven actions wrong which would be fatal to the economy. No action is purely selfless and most innovation is driven by companies wanting to have the best profit to make the most money.

  12. I think that this issue is a great example of an ethical conundrum. multiple issues come to mind while thinking about this, however i think your method of evaluation has a significant flaw. It seems as though you are trying to find a responsible party for the car safety standards, and attribute full control of the ethical decisions made to them. However I believe that all parties, from the governing body, to the car manufacturer, and the engineer who works on the project to share a level of blame. it would be interesting to know what the design team was thinking when they designed this car. Did they know that the car was so unsafe? and did they make a conscious decision not to implement the features? and why? additionally, do the same team work on cars in different regions and implement these safety features as a matter of course?
    An interesting argument is that the purchaser is taking their own decision into their hands. This may be true, however what about if they have a passenger? or run into a pedestrian? i think at that point that argument starts to fall down.

  13. An interesting article, though a few points were left under-discussed, I think.
    It would be interesting to see direct comparison of there percentage of an average annual wage spent on cars between U.S and Mexican workers. Also, have the Mexican government made any changes in regards to vehicle safety regulation, or do they plan to in the future?

    It’s an interesting agument using Kantian ethics, but surely companies existing to allow people to seek their own pleasure without hindrance goes against god business practice?

  14. You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with the point you made about Nissan almost sniper-like targeting a less economically-developed market and capitalising on consumer wants/needs and the government’s desire to increase job opportunities. They’re the winner in the end despite what any of the other stakeholders may think.

    That said, I’m unsure if there is a way of standardising safety regulations for car manufacturers across borders. I think the main way to get around this will be the dumping of resources into improving public infrastructure so the need for personal cars that eventually become people’s coffins decreases drastically. It may be a big hit to the profit-over-ethics companies like Nissan, or might get them to consider ethical solutions more closely.

  15. Good article, but it is highly unfair to blame Nissan for the sale of cars with lower safety standards. The economic conditions in Mexico are not the responsibility of Nissan and if these cars were not avalible to the public other, more dangerous forms of transport would have to be used. An example of which is south east asia, where the use of motorbike derivded transportation leads to some of the most dangerous roads in the world. This matter should be resolved by legislation not the car maker.

  16. I think that the media’s portrayal of the ‘lower’ safety standards in the Nissan Tsuru are bias. The media has portrayed an unfair and bias opinion clouded by hindsight, rather than accepting that for many years the older models of cars performed well and offered a compromise between performance and price.
    While by modern standards the car may not have performed as well, it has to be seen in the context of when it was released, many years previously these were seen as perfectly acceptable.
    The continued demand for this cheap, reliable car which is a staple in mexico is the reason it has stood the test of times and these safety issues have arisen. following this the car is no longer in production. So i think the decision of Nissan was acceptable at the time of the decision.

  17. The way in which Nissan has targeted the poor people in the Mexican economy is wrong!!
    They are simply taking advantage of their situation and failing help them in their time of need. Companies with more developed technologies should offer them freely to the less developed countries to help improve their standard of living. It is one world we should all work together!
    Arguments that we should charge them more for technology which saves lives is horrible! these should be included as standard, at a cost to the company if needed!

  18. Nissan should not be at fault here, surely?
    The argument against them says that they knowlingly put an unsafe car on the market, which as a bad thing, as that endangered the lives of those who bought it. In reality, the 1991 Nissan Sentra was just kept on the market, year after year, with a couple of name changes. As the mexican market demands cheap cars, and that car got cheaper to make year on year, it makes perfect business sense. Maybe the re-branding of it was deceptive, but car companies re-use designs and components all the time, whilst claiming that they are new. This is standard in the business.

    With the exception of maybe the Volvo business model, all car manufacturers make their cars to the lowest possible specs, be that safety or emmissions, as it’s difficult for them. This has been known for decades, and shouldn’t be a surprise to consumers. It is the choice of the Mexican govenrment and consumers to allow less safe cars to be made and purchase them.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with this argument. Nissan never lied or purposefully misled their Mexican customers, and instead provided a necessary service. If other companies had released safer vehicle models for a similar price, it would be fair to accuse Nissan of wilful negligence, but this isn’t the case.

  19. It would seem that Nissan have already stopped production of this vehicle, and quite rightly. I’m sure they have done rigorous crash testing on all their models and the fact that such a large, international company would continue to keep such a deadly car on the market beggars belief.

    Nissan know very well that they could have designed a new, safer car from scratch, but they chose not to to rake in the profits, which is inexcusable.

    1. You’re right in that Nissan could have designed a newer model that better met safety standards, but this wasn’t required by Mexican law, and wasn’t financially viable – a newer model wouldve cost closer to $20,000 than the $7,000 the Tsuru sold for, resulting in a majority of the Mexican population being priced out of the model, as well as Nissan’s profits suffering.

  20. I think that the regulators definitely need to accept the liability in this case. Nissan are a manufacturer, and while they have clearly not taken responsibility for the people using their products. they have adhered to the legal limits that they have to. Following the production, as you pointed out in the article, the customer then made the choice to purchase the vehicle. if the vehicle had not sold (and indeed been a BIG HIT) then they would have had to add more safety features.
    If this is now seen as a major oversight, and that there was more of a duty of care to protect ‘the people’ then i think the government should have been there to provide that protection. isn’t that their job?

    1. An interesting point, i believe that the car was particularly popular with cab drivers as well, due to its large interior and simple maintenance. I wonder if a larger degree of regulation on vehicles that would then be used by third parties such as cab’s) is in order?
      I know for a fact that if i was to go to a new city and my only option for travelling was in a tin can death machine i would be particularly put off from ever returning!

  21. It is the users choice what car they want. Government regulation can only go so far and the priority of the supplier is to make a profit. I think the government made it very difficult for the producers by saying cars had to be assembled in mexico. Whats to say the original design concept was safe but then shoddy workmanship has made it unsafe as they don’t have the infrastructure they need

    1. This is a very interesting point – The Mexican government already hold the majority of the responsibility thanks to their manufacturing restrictions and poor regulations, but it’s entirely possible that the Tsuru design was further compromised by poor worksmanship.

  22. Great article and I agree with your conclusion – it seems both parties are at fault here. On one hand, Nissan should have cut profits in an effort to produce a safer car, as they are knowingly releasing an unsafe car onto the market and have a duty of care to their customers. On the other hand Nissan are legally following standards set by the Mexican government, which raises the question as to why standards have not been updated up to this point.

    Is the Nissan Tsuru an outlier on the market – as in is it deliberately much cheaper than other options and much more unsafe? Or are there other manufacturers producing cars that are unfit for purpose at cheap prices alongside Nissan? As if multiple cheap, and deliberately unsafe cars exist on the market, I would be more inclined to say that the government was more at fault for the lack of regulation, or if the Tsuru was unique in its lack of safety devices, I would argue that Nissan would be more at fault for attempting to undercut the market and maximise profits.

  23. It is an interesting essay! I actually did not know about this issue beforehand and I think the introduction is doing very well. You have videos posted to give readers a clear idea of the background information and know more about this case study. However, it seems that the portion of the introduction is too long which shades your argument. Your standpoint is really good but I think you can mention more about how to balance the economic and ethical aspect with more vivid examples instead of just stating the ethic concepts. You may also mention more about how different parties reaction to this.

  24. Interesting article because it gives a broader view on how a global issue this is. Car companies around the world like Ford and Proton too have been known for using the bare minimum legislation to increase revenue. I guess in instances like this is where PRE is crucial as it opens up a medium on who should take up the responsibility.

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