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One can’t listen to a newscast, watch TV, read a newspaper, or get
online without being bombarded these last weeks by the saga of Firestone
tires and Ford Explorers. Even the U.S. Congress on August recess until
after Labor Day sent its “investigators” traveling to Ford and Firestone
plants to ask “tough questions” for hearings scheduled the day after
Congress returns.

Yet, it looks as if Ford CEO, Jac Nasser, won’t be participating.
Upon being told that Nasser would not be testifying, Ken Johnson, a
spokesman for Congressman Billy Tauzin, the Chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection
stated, “A lot of people find it curious that Mr. Nasser has time to cut
TV commercials but can’t find time to testify before Congress.”

It certainly will be interesting to see how Ford Motor Company and
Bridgestone/Firestone representatives answer the questions that the
congressmen and senators ask. We can only hope that Congress and the
courts ask the right questions. As an educated and concerned consumer my
question is: are those replacement tires better than the ones that
Bridgestone/Firestone sold to Ford and its other consumers over the
past years?

Twenty-four years ago we bought a Ford Torino wagon. Although it was
second hand, it came with four Firestone tires, which had plenty of
tread. One day driving on the Connecticut Thruway we stopped to pay a
toll and as we pulled away from the tollbooth, one of the back tires
exploded. It did exactly what we have seen on television these last few
weeks — the tread separated from the casing. At the time I shuddered to
think what would have happened if we had not stopped to pay the toll but
had been traveling at the normal speed limit. A close inspection of the
remaining three tires showed that all had irregularities along the
sidewalls. We went to a Firestone dealer, who offered to replace all
four tires at no charge, which we did.

After approximately 15,000 miles we noticed that all of the new tires
were developing the same kind of sidewall bulges again. We returned to
the tire dealer and he again offered to replace all four tires for a
nominal charge. This time we decided that we would spend the extra money
and replaced all four Firestones with Michelins.

In the ensuing years we have religiously shunned purchasing Firestone
tires. About four years ago we bought another second-hand Ford car; it
was a 1991 Explorer. It came with Firestone tires. When the tires wore
out and they lasted for 60,000 miles, we thought that Firestone had
fixed their tire separation problems and decided to buy another set of
Firestones. What a mistake!

The new set began to separate almost immediately. Again we took them
back to the tire dealer and replaced them with a set of Michelin tires.
Since two of our daughters owned Ford Explorers, we proceeded to inspect
their tires as well. Both sets of tires showed the unmistakable signs of
rubber bulging along the sidewalls — the precursor to separation.

We convinced our daughters to replace their tires with Michelins.
Today none of us are on the list of people receiving those replacement
Firestone tires, but we don’t care — we are all alive.

I am sure that Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone are tossing violently
in their graves wondering what has happened to the companies they worked
so hard to build and to the long-standing relationship between them.
Unfortunately for the driving public they are not their founder’s
company anymore.

In the early days of the U.S. automobile industry the company
founders were good friends. Both Firestone and Ford not only
collaborated, but vacationed together and worked closely when problems
developed. When Ford put a more powerful engine in its Model T the
acceleration caused Firestone tires to separate. As a result Harvey shut
his plant down and insisted that they would not build any more tires
until his engineers could make tires that would stand up to Henry Ford’s
new engine. Knowing that the big boss was watching, the Firestone
engineers worked tirelessly and solved the problem. Then Firestone made
sure that all those Ford cars got his new and improved tires. Those days
it was a question of personal integrity with Harvey Firestone and Henry
Ford. After all, their names were on the products.

If the kind of corporate work and responsibility ethic that Henry and
Harvey promoted in their companies some 70-80 years ago was still
fashionable, I believe that many of the deaths in Venezuela and the
United States would not have occurred. The problem would have been
recognized and acknowledged when it first appeared and would have been
quickly fixed. Ford and Firestone wouldn’t have allowed engineering
problems to deteriorate into legal battles that can only devastate their
respective companies. Today both companies are facing criminal and civil
lawsuits both here and in Venezuela, and the stock price of their
companies has fallen to new lows.

But the safety of those people receiving over 6.5 million new tires
is still at stake, and the question needs to be asked. Who will
guarantee to those consumers that the replacement tires are truly better
than those originally purchased? My crystal ball tells me it won’t be
Firestone!

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