Firestone and Ford: the Tire Tread Separation Tragedy

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Case 30
Firestone and Ford: The Tire Tread
Separation Tragedy


t is often tricky to know when an ethical or
social issue really begins. Does it begin before it
is “recognized” or “identified” as an issue?
Does it begin when an isolated manager recognizes an incident or a trend and reports it via a memo to his superiors? Does it begin once the
media get hold of information and the frenzy
begins? Such questions arise in the case of the
Firestone–Ford tire tread separation debacle that
began dominating business news in the fall of
2000, with implications for passenger safety that
continue today.
Ask any consumer about the two most critical
features of safety on their automobiles, and most
will quickly respond—brakes and tires. It is not
surprising, then, that the tire tread separations that
began appearing on certain categories of Firestone
tires, especially those associated with the Ford
Explorer, caught the public’s attention like few
other recent product safety issues.
Was this a tire problem or an SUV problem?
Was this Firestone’s problem or Ford’s problem?
Were both companies responsible for what happened? Were government regulations administered through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) adequate to protect the
public? These questions are simple to ask but
difficult to answer because they are complex.
Let’s start where the “public” knowledge of the
product dangers began to surface—with a couple
of accidents reported since 1998.

This case was written/updated by Archie B. Carroll, University of Georgia.

Jessica LeAnn Taylor was a 14-year-old junior high
school cheerleader on the way to a homecoming
football game near her hometown of Mexia, Texas,
on October 16, 1998. She was in a Ford Explorer
SUV, driven by a friend of her mother’s, when the
tread on the left-rear Firestone ATX tire allegedly
“peeled off like a banana,” leading the Explorer to
veer left and roll over....
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