Danger on the Highway: Bridgestone/Firestone¡¦s Tire Recall Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., based in Nashville, Tennessee, has been in the business of making tires since 1900, when Harvey Firestone founded the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Firestone was acquired by Bridgestone USA, Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corporation, in 1990 for $2.6 billion. Today, the company markets 8,000 different types and sizes of tires, and a host of other products. The company has also enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship with Ford Motor Company which began in 1906 when Henry Ford purchased 2,000 sets of tires from Harvey Firestone. Despite emerging as a leader in the tire industry, Bridgestone/Firestone has faced several crises related to its tire¡¦s safety. In 1978, Firestone recalled 14.5 million tires¡Xthe largest tire recall at the time¡Xafter excess application of the adhesives binding the rubber and steel resulted in 500 tread separations and blowouts. The company also paid a $500,000 fine for concealing safety problems. However, this incident paled in comparison to problems the company faced in the late 1990s, which quickly grew to affect its relationship with Ford as well. In July 1998, a State Farm Insurance researcher advised the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that he had found twenty cases of tread failure associated with Firestone tires dating back to 1992. He was politely thanked, but no action resulted. In January 2000, Houston television station KHOU aired a nine-minute story on tread-separation accidents in Texas. After the story aired, many people called the station to relate their own stories of Firestone tire failures, most on them on Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles. These were relayed to Joan Claybrook, former chief of the NHTSA. Finally, Sean Kane, a former employee of the Center for Auto Safety and the founder of Strategic Safety, a research organization, also tried to alert the NHTSA about problems with tread separations on Firestone tires. After learning about similar problems in Venezuela, Strategic Safety, together with Public Citizen, another consumer watchdog group, issued a press release on August 1 asking Ford for a vehicle recall. Despite the evidence compiled by these sources, the NHTSA was slow to respond. In March 2000, investigators Steve Beretzky and Rob Wahl found twenty-two tread-separation complaints that they marked for ¡§initial evaluation.¡¨ The number of complaints skyrocketed between March and May, and by May 2, the NHTSA had elevated their status to ¡§preliminary investigation.¡¨ Days later, the NHTSA requested that Bridgestone/Firestone supply production data and complaint files, which it produced on July 27. Upon obtaining a copy of the report, Ford immediately began analyzing the data. Of the 2,498 complaints logged by that time, 81 percent involved P235/75R15 Firestone tires. Of the 1,699 complaints involving tread separation, 84 percent involved Ford¡¦s Explorer and Bronco SUVs and Ranger and F-150 trucks. On August 5, agents of Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone met in Dearborne, Michigan, to discuss the issue. By this time, the NHTSA was investigating twenty-one possible deaths related to tread separation of Firestone tires. Within days, the investigation had grown to include 46 possible deaths, and Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone met with NHTSA officials to discuss a plan of action. The next day, August 9, the companies issued a recall of 6.5 million tires. The recall included 3.8 million P235/75R15 radial ATX and ATXII tires as well as 2.7 million Wilderness AT tires, all made in Firestone¡¦s Decatur, Illinois, plant. Bridgestone/Firestone organized the official recall by state, giving priority to Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, where the greatest percentage of casualties had occurred. Based on NHTSA data, Florida and Texas each accounted for 22 percent of complaints, followed by California with 20...
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