WASHINGTON – Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said Monday that it no longer would sell tires to Ford Motor Co., ending a relationship that started with the Model T, was cemented with the marriage of Henry Ford’s grandson to Harvey Firestone’s granddaughter, and unraveled with last summer’s recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires.
Ford plans to fire back Tuesday. Ford chief executive officer Jacques Nasser is scheduled to meet with members of Congress to discuss the safety of the remaining Firestone tires on Ford Explorers. The company could announce plans to replace 10 million to 13 million Firestone tires that were left out of the recall ordered last summer by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., a high-ranking Ford official said.
The tire maker reached its breaking point with the world’s second-largest automaker Monday after Ford was reported to be seeking the additional recall.
The tires, standard equipment on the Explorer, the world’s best-selling sport utility vehicle, have been linked to at least 174 U.S. traffic deaths. In the most common scenario, treads peeled off the tires and vehicles flipped when driven at high speeds on hot surfaces.
The companies have blamed each other for the recall and the public relations problems surrounding it.
“Business relationships, like personal ones, are built upon trust and mutual respect,” Bridgestone/Firestone chief executive and president John Lampe wrote in a letter to Mr. Nasser. “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.”
Mr. Lampe wrote the letter after meeting with Ford researchers at the tiremaker’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. He said they could not agree on analyses of the problem leading to the recall.
95-year relationship is finished
The decision ends a relationship that began in 1906 when Henry Ford was standardizing his Model T and ordered 8,000 tires from friend Harvey Firestone. Ford and Firestone later became family when their grandchildren – William Clay Ford and Martha Parke Firestone – married in 1947. Current Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. is a descendant of both men.
“We are deeply disappointed … that Firestone decided not to work together for the safety of our shared customers, which is the only issue that matters,” Mr. Nasser said in a statement that faulted Firestone tires for the safety problems.
Mr. Lampe would not discuss the value of Ford’s business with Firestone but said it represented 5 percent of the tiremaker’s total revenue. Last year, Firestone had $18.6 billion in sales.
Both companies had analyzed the tire failures and concluded it was a problem with the design and a unique manufacturing process at Bridgestone/Firestone’s plant in Decatur, Ill.
However, Bridgestone/Firestone officials said the Explorer’s design and Ford’s decision to recommend an inflation level lower than what the tiremaker suggested also played a role.
Both companies, which face hundreds of lawsuits over the accidents, said they thought the recall was adequate to cover all defective tires. But last week Ford officials told federal investigators they are concerned that more tires might still pose safety problems.
Mr. Lampe sent Mr. Nasser a letter Friday saying he was outraged to learn of the meeting through the media.
“This is not a decision we make lightly after almost 100 years of history,” Mr. Lampe wrote. “But, we must look to the future and the best interests of our company, our employees and our other customers.”
He said Ford has not cooperated with Firestone since the recall, despite a public pledge to share information and work together.
“Ford simply is not willing to do that,” Mr. Lampe said. “We believe they are attempting to divert scrutiny of their vehicle by casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires.”
He said customers file 10 times more claims involving Explorers than Ford Rangers, which were equipped with the same Firestone tires. Mr. Lampe said Firestone believes that shows the problem is with the Explorer, not the tires.
Ford has said its costs relating to the tire recall totaled about $500 million. Mr. Lampe has said Bridgestone/Firestone spent at least $450 million on the recall and recently began a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to assure the public its tires are safe.
On Sunday, Ford announced a recall of more than 50,000 new Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers because some tires may accidentally have been cut by a narrow assembly line. The tires involved are Goodyear and Michelin brands. Ford said the cuts are cosmetic and do not affect tire performance.