Automobile makers usually try to find the best way to build a car, but Mazda had the unenviable task of finding the best way to destroy over 4,700 brand new cars:
It all started about two years ago, when a ship carrying 4,703 shiny new Mazdas nearly sank in the Pacific. The freighter, the Cougar Ace, spent weeks bobbing on the high seas, listing at a severe 60-degree angle, before finally being righted.
The mishap created a dilemma: What to do with the cars? They had remained safely strapped down throughout the ordeal -- but no one knew for sure what damage, if any, might be caused by dangling cars at such a steep angle for so long. Might corrosive fluids seep into chambers where they don't belong? Was the Cougar Ace now full of lemons?
The Japanese car maker, controlled by Ford Motor Corp., easily could have found takers for the vehicles. Hundreds of people called about buying cheap Mazdas. Schools wanted them for auto-shop courses. Hollywood asked about using them for stunts.
Mazda turned everyone away. It worried about getting sued someday if, say, an air-bag failed to fire properly due to overexposure to salty sea air.
It also worried that scammers might find a way to spirit the cars abroad to sell as new. That happened to thousands of so-called "Katrina cars" salvaged from New Orleans' flooding three years ago. Those cars -- their electronics gone haywire and sand in the engines -- were given a paint job and unloaded in Latin America on unsuspecting buyers, damaging auto makers' reputations.