`The customer is always right'' is a philosophy that must have been invented by auto makers for their suppliers. That's why the open warfare between Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. is so extraordinary.
Fighting publicly with an automotive customer-no, change that, fighting at all with one of them-is virtually unheard of. Kowtowing to every whim of the auto giant, be it pricing, quality control or specifications, is the price of admission to the high-volume business.
Of course Ford is blaming Bridgestone/Firestone for the Firestone Wilderness AT tire/Ford Explorer debacle. Firestone, and its successor Bridgestone/Firestone, has been a prime supplier of tires to Ford for a century. You don't earn that kind of longevity record with an auto maker by being an independent-thinking, extremely principled supplier. No, you get there by doing what you are told.
Ford has had a consistent message since this story began-``Not our fault.'' Like a faithful dog, Bridgestone/Firestone bowed its head and took the heat at first. When it got too hot, the tire maker began to dispute Ford's stance. Now, its ``save your own skin time.'' The customer-supplier relationship is in tatters, with Ford replacing 13 million Firestone tires ``for safety's sake,'' and Bridgestone/Firestone ending its relationship with the auto maker and suggesting the government investigate the Explorer.
If close friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone were alive today, this would kill them.