FORD AND FIRESTONE BATTLE THEIR WAY TO CAPITOL HILL Ford Motor Company officials now say that the company might ask Bridgestone Firestone to partially compensate Ford for the expenses associated with the expanded recall of 13 million Firestone tires on Ford vehicles. Ford ordered the recall recently, without consulting Bridgestone Firestone, continuing a long series of attacks and infighting between Ford and Firestone. Firestone attests that the tires recently recalled are safe, and the tiremaker says that it will not compensate Ford. Meanwhile, with Congressional testimony next week, Ford says that it has a new batch of data that shows the Firestone Wilderness AT tires recently recalled have a frequency of blowouts and tread separations comparable as those recalled by Firestone last year, while Firestone is counting on auto experts' testimony that there is indeed a design problem with the Explorer. Doing its best to steer away from a federal investigation of the Explorer for alleged stability problems, Ford issued a press statement claiming that "Ford's testing, and that of all others known to Ford, confirms that Explorers have similar performance before, during, and after a tread separation." Ford also cited federal statistics that show the Explorer's fatality rate to be 17 percent lower than that of other SUVs.
PR EXECS SAY FORD IS WINNING, BUT BOTH ARE LOSING A new survey of top public relations executives done by the Council of Public Relations Firms shows that PR firms believe that Ford is winning the battle in public image versus Firestone. The survey found that 65 percent of PR people agreed with Ford's decision to begin the new-round recall of 13 million tires on Ford vehicles. Also, 66 percent of the PR executives disagreed with Firestone's decision to stop supplying tires to Ford. An overwhelming 85 percent of respondents said that if Ford and Firestone had worked together, they would have been able to save their business relationship and avoid scars to consumer confidence with both companies. Meanwhile, an informal Detroit News poll found that 31 percent of respondents won't drive an Explorer, while 38 percent won't use Firestone tires and 8 percent will avoid both brands now. Only 14 percent thought that the reports were exaggerated. Said one exec: "The real question is why didn't these two supposedly responsible, respectable companies join forces to discover the root of the problem and solve it together, instead of throwing blame around like two adolescents having a food fight. Where were their crisis counselors -- or weren't they listening to them?"
FORD-FIRESTONE CHILDISHNESS CONTINUES If you think the public-relations fight between Ford and Firestone has been a bit childish, wait 'til you hear this. According to the Detroit Free Press, Ford CEO Jac Nasser said that he would not sit near Firestone chief John Lampe during federal hearings this week. Nasser and Lampe were assigned to the same white-knuckle panel at the hearings, which investigated Ford's decision to recall 13 million Firestone tires mounted on Ford light trucks. A House subcommittee has asked the NHTSA to consider an investigation on the Ford Explorer's safety record, after a Firestone-linked 'independent' study showed the Explorer to have a stability problem. Folks, don't think the dust has settled on the playground.
CONTINENTAL AXED According to the Detroit Free Press, unofficial Ford sources have confirmed that the Lincoln Continental's days are numbered. The front-wheel-drive, Taurus-derived model will reportedly be discontinued after the 2002 model year. Continental sales, currently at 26,000 units last year, are at a fraction of 1990's high of 63,000 units.