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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Ford to replace 10 million Firestone tires

The Detroit News

WASHINGTON — Ford Motor Co. is expected to announce a major campaign today to replace millions of potentially defective Firestone tires on older vehicles, after the embattled tire company yesterday ended its 100-year relationship with its largest and oldest customer.

Its rift with Firestone comes just as Ford is launching its redesigned 2002 Explorer, the nation's top-selling SUV.

Bloomberg News Service

Following months of testing and research, Ford officials will recommend the replacement of more than 10 million Firestone tires. Data collected from customer warranty claims suggest the tires subject to the latest recall are failing at an unusually high rate.

The latest recall follows an extraordinary exchange yesterday in which Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. accused Ford of raising doubts about the reliability of Firestone tires while failing to acknowledge safety issues about its best-selling Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

It is unprecedented that a supplier would in effect publicly fire its biggest customer. The actions highlight a high-stakes struggle between two industrial giants whose pasts have been linked through long-running business partnerships and blood relations.

The corporate drama is being played out just as Ford is launching its redesigned 2002 Explorer, the nation's top-selling SUV, and Firestone is in the midst of a major marketing campaign to rebuild its tarnished image.

The spat heated up in recent days as word leaked that Ford planned to release data that supported the need for replacement of millions of Firestone tires not included in last year's recall of 6.5 million tires on Explorers.

In a blistering letter yesterday to Ford president Jacques Nasser, Firestone president and chief executive officer John Lampe wrote that "business relationships, like personal ones, are built on trust and mutual respect. We have come to the conclusion that we can no longer supply tires to Ford since the basic foundation of our relationship has been seriously eroded."

The decision followed a meeting in Nashville, Tenn., between Lampe and Ford's lead research team, including Carlos Mazzorin, Ford's executive in charge of purchasing.

"We believe they are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires," Lampe said. "The tires are safe, and when we have a problem, we will acknowledge that problem and fix it. We expect Ford to do the same."

The break between the two companies is all the more intriguing because of the century-long relationship of the Fords and Firestones, two of the nation's wealthiest and most recognized families.

Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford was close friends with Harvey Firestone, the man who founded the Akron, Ohio, tire company.

So close were the families that their children and heirs socialized. William Clay Ford, the grandson of Henry Ford, wooed and married Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of the Firestone founder. Their son is William Clay Ford Jr., current Ford chairman.