The value of competition is quite apparent in the battle on Indy car racetracks between Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear tires. Bridgestone/Firestone, the upstart, has been finishing in front on the track. But the big winners are consumers and the tire industry in general.
Both companies are progressive in their research and development of new products. But the competition in auto racing can only help bring out the best in both firms with faster turnaround time for technology learned on the racetrack, and the introduction of that technology into passenger tires.
The importance of being involved in high-profile competition in auto racing is clear. Bridgestone/Firestone reports sales of its Firehawk passenger tire-the same name of its racing tire-have increased 40 percent since the company said in 1993 it would re-enter Indy car racing after a 20-year absence. A win at the upcoming Indianapolis 500 undoubtedly would boost sales even more.
The Firestone tire last year ended Goodyear's win streak at 315 and has won all six Indy car races this season. That puts the Goodyear technical staff on the hot seat, and you can be certain the company is doing whatever possible to get back in the winner's circle.
That puts pressure on all tire makers to keep up with improved technology, a classic example of competition resulting in better products.
And that's a good thing.
The breast implant litigation continues to spill over into the rubber industry, and it's not good.
The latest effect of the product liability suits is Shell Chemical Co.'s decision to restrict the use of its elastomers in medical applications. The supplier cited the ``disproportionate degree of financial risk'' it faces when manufacturers produce various implants, drug delivery and other devices using Shell's materials.
Not coincidentally, Shell's declaration follows Dow Corning Corp.'s 1993 decision to quit selling implant-grade silicone.
The suppliers can't be blamed for bowing out of the medical field: Why take the risk? But these decisions are creating a new class of victims of the breast implant fiasco-makers of components used in medical devices who now must find alternative and, most likely, more costly materials.