Among the most painful experiences any tire maker can face is having to tell customers one of its products is unsafe. Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. now finds itself in that position, having announced the voluntary recall of nearly 600,000 radial passenger tires bearing some 19 brand names including its own.
The recall is the industry's largest since 1980 and the fourth-biggest in history.
Besides the Kelly Aqua Tour tire, in which the defect first was detected, the recall also applies to private label tires sold under 18 additional brands.
Some of the tires, Kelly said, may develop sidewall cracks leading to a loss of air pressure.
To its credit, the company is making a commendable effort to correct the situation, which will help reduce the damage of this public relations nightmare.
Kelly said the problem has been corrected and the firm is unaware of any injuries or fatalities resulting from a failed tire.
While product difficulties are always regrettable, they are a fact of life. Kelly was wise in owning up to the problem and taking prompt action to protect customers and carry out its responsibility under the law.
The company's forthright response is a far cry from the stonewalling that characterized the massive tire recalls of the late 1970s and early '80s.
Once the embarrassment and financial pain of this recall have passed, it's not likely that Kelly will suffer long-term damage to its reputation. Most buyers are forgiving when convinced the manufacturer and retailer are trying to make things right.
Ironically, this was underscored by a speaker at Kelly's recent dealer meeting. Roger Dow, vice president and general sales manager for Marriott Hotels, cited statistics showing that hotel patrons whose problems have been satisfactorily resolved are more likely to come back to the hotel than other guests who've experienced no such problems.
Independent dealers also have an obligation to inform and satisfy tire owners when a recall occurs.
Moreover, how well they carry out those responsibilities often determines whether such customers depart happily or vowing never to return.
No retailer wants to be the bearer of bad tidings. But like the tire manufacturer, dealers have the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade under such circumstances.
Unfortunately, few retailers provide customers with tire registration forms—which they are obligated to do under the law. Unless that occurs, tracking down and informing the tire's owner becomes practically impossible.
Throw in the possibility of a change in vehicle ownership—which makes notification all the more difficult—and it's hardly surprising that only an estimated 3-5 percent of the tires recalled actually are inspected or replaced.
How a company handles such a situation, whether it acts promptly and directly, or tries to sweep it under the table, will go a long way toward determining whether such news causes lasting damage to a firm's reputation or is soon forgotten.