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Car Safety vs Cost Cutting: The Hyundai Case

A Critical Look at How Manufacturer Cost Cutting Compromises Passenger Safety

In today’s world, we trust manufacturers to deliver safe and reliable products, especially when it comes to automobiles. However, when companies prioritize profits over the well-being of their customers, the consequences can be dire. The Hyundai case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of holding manufacturers accountable for their actions and ensuring consumer safety. Personal injury lawyers play a vital role in this process, serving as advocates for victims and promoting a more responsible and transparent corporate culture.

Manufacturer’s Responsibility to Prioritize Safety

A car company has several responsibilities to uphold in order to ensure passenger safety:

  1. Design and build cars to keep people safe in protectable accidents
  2. Perform universally used and accepted design engineering methods
  3. Test cars for real-world accidents
  4. Put safety before profits

Hyundai’s Defective Seats: A Case Study

Hyundai reduced their budget for seats, which led to weakened structures that couldn’t withstand minor impacts. This resulted in seat failures in minor crashes, causing paralysis.

As the engineering documents reveal, Hyundai chose to replace the active head restraint with the cheaper hollow tube design, it was a clear decision to save $7 per seat despite it increasing likelihood of a serious injury.

Hyundai’s own internal testing revealed that they violated safety rules by allowing injurious bending of the head restraint posts. The 2013 Hyundai Elantra driver’s seat was found to be defective due to a weak upper seat structure and improper welding of the posts to the seat. In the event of a rear crash, the head restraint posts could rotate forward and contact the occupant, creating a fulcrum at the lower end of the posts, setting up the condition for a spinal fracture.

Discovery revealed that Hyundai's seat designer, Mr. Kim, predicted the exact movement of the head restraint posts in his engineering diary. This information, however, was not acted upon.

Hyundai cut the Elantra budget by 25 million, a 13% reduction, which compromised the safety of the vehicle.

Design Failure Mode And Effects Analysis (DFMEA)

Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (Design FMEA) is a systematic, proactive approach used to identify potential failure modes in a product or system during the design phase. Its primary purpose is to evaluate and improve the reliability and safety of a product before it is manufactured and released to the public. DFMEA plays a crucial role in enhancing public safety by minimizing risks associated with product failures.

  1. Establish the design intent of the product
  2. If the design intent is not accomplished, it’s a failure
  3. Assess the severity of the failure
  4. The most serious failures (9 or 10 on the DFMEA scale) require a design change

Hyundai’s FMVSS expert agreed that the design intent of a seatback is to provide uniform support in a crash.

In this case, Hyundai failed to meet the design intent, which led to the aforementioned defects.

Hyundai’s Claim Vs Reality

Hyundai claimed they never heard of an injury occurring from the head restraint posts. However, as one of their experts admitted, if a fatal injury was causally related to a design defect, one should change their design hypothesis. Even one fatality is too many.


The Hyundai case exemplifies the importance of holding manufacturers accountable and ensuring consumer safety. Personal injury lawyers play a crucial role in this process, advocating for victims and pushing for stronger regulations to protect consumers. By raising awareness about cases like Hyundai’s, we aim to create a more informed and vigilant consumer base and encourage companies to prioritize safety over cost-cutting measures.

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