Road & Track Takes On Ralph Nader: “Nader VS. Volkswagen – A R&T Report” – A Forceful Rebuttal (and Apparent Exoneration)

Having made his mark with “Unsafe At Any Speed”, the highly influential book that instigated the government’s safety regulations, Ralph Nader took on a number of other consumer-related subjects. “Unsafe” included a chapter on the Corvair, but somewhat surprisingly, gave the rear engine, swing axle VW little attention. That was just temporary, as in 1971, Nader’s Organization unleashed a scathing report on the Volkswagen, referring to numerous statistics and reports. But this time, someone took him to task, and rather effectively at that.

Road & Track did a quite thorough analysis of the report’s sources, methods and conclusions, and from a reading of it, one is left wondering just how much of a hit job Nader was. There’s a rather astonishing number of omissions, misrepresentations and erroneous conclusions. Why? Nader was an attorney, and this report comes off as a litigation, which is not the same as a truly objective report. And which in the courts of law, would be expected to be counter-litigated. And this is just that. The summation clearly exonerates the Beetle; it was no less safe than other compact cars, most of which were much more recent designs. And this is despite the fact that Beetle owners tended to be younger than average.

It’s a bit lengthy and old history, but I found it interesting enough to keep me at it to the end. And shaking my head a few times…

“Ralph Nader’s attack on the Volkswagen was not unexpected.”  True that, and one wonders what took so long, given that the VW had been on the market since 1950 or so, it shared the rear-engine swing axle configuration of the Corvair, it was a very old design, dating back to 1938, and it was of course small. All those factors alone would seem to raise questions as to its safety.

R&T was initially impressed by all of the tests and studies by credible institutions that were used as the primary evidence in Nader’s report. But once R&T started looking at the full reports, they quickly found a pattern where only selected evidence and statistics were used, which created a different picture, sometimes even contradictory, to the one that was painted by Nader’s organization. In essence, that’s the primary issue here, and the conclusions formulated by Nader are therefore questionable, and in some cases highly suspect.

If you’re not going to read the whole thing, there’s a very brief summation at the bottom. At least read that before you comment.

R&T also takes the VW report to task for using overly emotional language, denigrating VW and others with contradictory points of views, and otherwise running rough-shod. It’s quite clear from the get-go that Nader is out to condemn Volkswagen, and has all his guns blazing.

But there are serious omissions and erroneous judgments, like the absurd one that VW parts cost more per pound than that of other cars, hence negating its claim to be an “economy car”. Not only has VW never used that as an argument for its economy, but Nader left out many other cars in the original analysis, which when included show that the VW was in the lowest third in this kind of ranking. Selective omissions and inaccurate conclusions from beginning to end.


Here’s the key summation of R&T’s analysis of all the data:

Not bad, for a car that was designed in 1938 and was commonly owned by a younger demographic.


CC’s take on “Unsafe At Any Speed”