Ford Motor Co. definitely has won the upper hand in its fight with Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. But in the end, both will suffer from the bitterness of this very public feud.
Bridgestone/Firestone made what seemed like an effective pre-emptive strike with its declaration that it would no longer do business in the Americas with its top original equipment customer. Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John Lampe sent a strongly worded missive to Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, saying Ford was trying to divert attention away from the Explorer and place all blame on the Firestone-brand tires. Lampe said the firm's analysis found ``significant safety issues'' with the Explorer, but that Ford refused to acknowledge those issues.
But Nasser quickly one-upped Lampe with Ford's announcement the following day that it would recall 13 million Firestone tires that mostly are on the Ford Explorer. By so doing, Nasser placed Ford in the position of ``looking out for the public's safety''-backed up by the auto maker's willingness to pay more than $2 billion after taxes for the recall. To try to make Bridgestone/Firestone look even worse, Ford took the further step of recalling the 1.5 million or so Firestone Wilderness tires that were used as replacements in last year's 6.5 million-tire recall. ``We simply don't have enough confidence in the future safety of these tires,'' Nasser said.
So Ford-with its much deeper pockets-has made it look like Bridgestone/Firestone is the one not willing to pay up to ensure the safety of the driving public. One analyst, however, had it right when he said customers likely would lose confidence in both companies. While it's easy to see the buying public thinking twice about purchasing Firestone tires, it's just as easy to see the public choose a vehicle besides a Ford.