Greedy for profits, Enterprise, GM endanger public

Enterprise Rent-A-Car deliberately had General Motors sell it a fleet of Chevrolet Impalas without side curtain air bags to save itself $175 a vehicle and then sold those vehicles as “program cars” on the used market without informing purchasers that the safety feature had been deleted.
These wicked — yes, that’s the proper word — decisions were made by the nation’s largest buyer of new cars, Enterprise, and agreed to by General Motors, which once was the largest car company in the world.
These crimes were uncovered by a team of Kansas City Star reporters and reported at length in Sunday’s Star.
Will anyone go to prison for increasing the chances of death or serious injury to all who rented the stripped down Impalas while Enterprise owned them? Will the car dealers who sold them used be put behind bars? Will General Motors be punished for agreeing to such an outrageous and demeaning request? No, no and no again.
How serious were these decisions? The Star reported: “Side air bags (with head protection) reduce the risk of the driver dying in an accident by 45 percent when the accident occurs on the driver’s side. The risk of the driver dying is reduced by 74 percent in two-vehicle accidents when a car with side air bags (with head protection) is struck by a car or minivan.”
What Enterprise decided was that putting their customers at increased risk to cut $175 from the car’s purchase price was a good trade. General Motors went along, even though its reputation for building safe cars and ethical behavior was also at risk. For all we know, GM may have offered air bag deletion as an option.
Enterprise explained its decision by arguing that the government didn’t require the side air bags so it had violated no federal mandate. (Congress should quickly fix that flaw.)
General Motors apparently didn’t hesitate to sell Enterprise or any other fleet buyer Impalas without the safety features even though the devices are listed as standard in company advertising and other descriptive information. Buyers can learn how a car is equipped by doing their own detective work.

THE MORAL of the Star’s investigation is that decent, moral behavior is not a necessary part of our free enterprise system. Think behind the headlines for a moment. Enterprise is a very big company. The decision to order the Impalas without the side bags to cut the cost of each car by a relatively small amount must have been discussed and agreed to by a signficant number of the company’s management team. More than a few at General Motors had to agree to delete the safety feature to please a big customer. Every dealer who sold the used Impalas as program cars had a moral obligation to tell customers the bags were missing. Few did.
Enterprise boldly told questioners that the government didn’t make them keep the side curtains so they didn’t and pocketed the savings, apparently not giving a tinker’s dam about the consequences to their customers. General Motors didn’t offer an explanation for its callous decision to choose profit over human safety.
The cheating was, in other words, part of the culture.
This nauseating scandal tells us once again what we should have learned from the profit-driven decisions the financial industry made that drove the world economy off the cliff: when big business must choose between making more profit and the benefit of the general public, the public always takes second place.
And that, dear reader, is why government must act as a buffer between avarice, amoral profit-seekers and the public it exists to serve and protect.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.