When the final toll is counted, among the casualties of the Firestone recall disaster could be one of the longest customer-supplier relationships in the tire industry.
Harvey Firestone was a close friend of Henry Ford, and they often vacationed together and with their other pal, Thomas Edison. The Firestone-Ford relationship extended into business. In 1906 Firestone began supplying tires to Ford (at a 21-percent discount, too), and it was the Ford contract that vaulted the tire maker into a position of prominence.
The finger-pointing going on now between the two companies has put this marriage on the rocks.
Listen to Jacques Nasser, Ford Motor Co. CEO, speaking before a congressional committee. "Ford did not know that there was a defect with the recalled tires until we virtually pried the claims data from Firestone´s hands and analyzed it ourselves," he said.
John Lampe, Bridgestone/Firestone vice president, countered Nasser´s charges at a Senate hearing, where he admitted some of the recalled tires were defective. "We firmly believe, however, that the tire is only part of the overall safety problem," he said, citing federal data showing 16,000 rollover accidents and 600 deaths have occurred with the Explorer. "Only a very, very small percentage" involved tire failures, Lampe said. He also rebutted Nasser´s claim that Explorers mounted with Goodyear OE tires had no problem.
Ford already has signed Michelin as an alternative supplier for the Explorer, and approached Goodyear. When money, reputation and survival are at stake, old friendships only go so far.