Ralph Nader: There's never too much oversight of the auto industry.
Forty years after his landmark book, Unsafe at Any Speed, reshaped the auto safety debate, the 71-year-old consumer advocate is returning to the fray.
In August, Nader pressured Ford Motor Co. to recall millions of vehicles because cruise control switches were suspected of starting fires. Last month he publicly disputed a Wall Street Journal editorial that blamed fuel economy standards for more highway deaths.
And he has additional plans.
"Yeah, there will be more activity now," Nader said last week in a brief interview with Automotive News, confirming his intention to be engaged again in automotive issues.
In the decades since Unsafe at Any Speed, he pursued a wide range of causes. Many involved environmental pollution, food safety, government corruption and corporate power.
He also ran for president several times, dismaying some Democrats who say votes he received made George Bush win in 2000.
Nader says he left primary responsibility for automobile safety to organizations he founded in the early 1970s: Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety.
But he says, "There needs to be more effort in this area."
He accuses the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of becoming a "consulting firm" for automakers instead of the tough regulatory agency it should be.
"I don't think there is ever too much oversight of NHTSA or oversight of the auto industry," he adds.
His criticisms come even though the highway death rate is at an all-time low and even though automakers install safety systems that go beyond regulations.
Nader contends, though, that the gap between automakers' technological capabilities and the vehicles they build is greater now than at any time in 25 years.
Eager to welcome Nader back is Clarence Ditlow, longtime executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
"There are not enough people doing what we do, whether it's the old Ralph coming back or a new consumer group," he says.
Adds Ditlow: "There are some people who used to be Ralph's friends who no longer are after he ran for president. I'm not one of those people."
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]