Give Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. credit for paying attention to history. Newspaper reports of an inordinate number of accidents caused by tread separations of Firestone-brand ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires used on sport-utility vehicles and pickups have sparked a government investigation. Ninety complaints, including reports of 33 crashes, four deaths and 27 injuries, have been made against the tires. If the charges are true or not—and at this stage, who knows—Bridgestone/Firestone isn't trying to duck the issue. The company said it will cooperate fully with NHTSA, while standing by the quality of its products.
That's a far cry from the Firestone 500 debacle of two decades ago.
In the late 1970s, rumors of a tread separation problem with Firestone's first-generation passenger radial tires began leaking out. Evidence of a problem grew via complaints to NHTSA, and an investigation was launched.
Firestone's reaction is a case study on how not to react to a product liability issue. The company policy was to deny a problem existed, and fight the investigation every step of the way.
The result: An eventual recall that cost the company $200 million but, even worse, an erosion of consumer confidence in the Firestone name. It nearly killed the company.
The first defense from tire industry supporters this time is that consumers neglect their tires, don't keep them properly inflated, drive them under excessive loads. All true.
A thorough investigation is the only way to learn if a problem really exists and, if so, are consumers or the company to blame. At this stage, Bridgestone/Firestone's proper role is to address the issue openly, as it has done. Keep it up.