Firestone's big blowout

Recall: Tire manufacturer's hesitancy to recall defective tires generates support for strict laws.

September 03, 2000

WHAT DID Firestone and Ford know about the failure rate of tires on Ford Explorers and when did they know it? Federal agencies and Congress are interested in the answers to those questions. So far, Firestone and Ford have a lot to explain.

Reports suggest Firestone officials knew three tire models on Ford Explorers and pickup trucks were coming apart. They knew consumers were complaining. But they did nothing to get the tires off the road. As a result, as many as 750 accidents -- and 62 fatalities -- may have occurred.

Firestone's behavior belies the contention that government regulation is unnecessary because corporations, out of self-interest, will police themselves.

Firestone has seen this problem before. In the late 1970s, more than 14,000 consumers complained that the Firestone 500 tire would blow out or shred. That incident weakened Firestone to the point where Bridgestone had to rescue it from bankruptcy.

Ford's management looks no better in the debacle. The company knew at least 18 months ago that Firestone tires were shredding on Venezuelan Explorers.

It wasn't until August, though, that U.S. Explorer owners were notified that they should replace their Firestone tire.

In the wake of this mess, Congress is likely to enact new legislation requiring companies to quickly notify customers about defective products. It may also require manufacturers to notify U.S. regulators when companies have overseas recalls.

No doubt, the business lobbyists will label these new laws as onerous. But when corporations behave irresponsibly and people lose their lives, elected officials have few other choices.

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