SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 28, 2000) — San Francisco´s Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide on March 6 whether to outlaw sales of the colorful BFGoodrich Scorcher T/As in that city.
Supervisor Mabel Teng, sponsor of the ban, is worried that the tires will prompt immature drivers to burn rubber, leaving colored skid marks.
"San Francisco already spends $1.5 million a year in taxpayers´ money to clean up graffiti. Why would we want to welcome a product that would make graffiti worse?" Ms. Teng said at a Feb. 15 meeting of the Housing and Social Policy Committee.
She and other officials also worry that gangs might use Scorchers to mark their turfs or challenge rivals. That, warned San Francisco Police Capt. Greg Suhr, could lead to drive-by shootings or other violence.
Michelin North America Inc.´s James Morton, at the meeting to try and calm fears about the tires, noted: "Thousands have been sold since last summer and not a single complaint has arisen" about Scorchers leaving skid marks.
"We don´t believe a ban is necessary," said Mr. Morton, vice president of government and public relations. "We are willing to work with you to monitor the situation to see if the tires are being used inappropriately."
Michelin will also set up a toll-free number to be used by the Department of Public Works and the police in the San Francisco area to report any problems.
The tire maker has pledged to reimburse the city, for a year, the costs to remove any Scorcher skid marks. That tab would run about $100 each, according to San Francisco officials.
A spokesman for the San Francisco police department said officers have neither spotted Scorchers on the street nor heard of any problems related to the distinctive tires. Officer S. Mulkeen added that, to the best of his knowledge, the city hadn´t tested a Scorcher to see if it left a colored mark.
Mr. Morton apologized for Michelin´s initial video release last summer that depicted vehicles leaving long, colored "patches" with their Scorchers. The company pulled the promotion within days of getting complaints. Michelin officials also said, in the wake of the controversy, that the BFGoodrich-branded tire could not actually make noticeable skid marks.
That´s not enough for San Francisco Supervisor Sue Bierman, who wants Michelin to dump the Scorcher name for something less provocative. "I think the word `scorcher´ is an invitation to kids to drive dangerously," said Ms. Bierman. "It means you whirl the car in a certain way to scorch the ground."
While Mr. Morton said the company would rein in the marketing of the colors as "raging red" and "blazing blue," he indicated Michelin would not likely drop "Scorcher." Ms. Teng had suggested Michelin use "Rainbow," but on Feb. 22 a Michelin spokeswoman confirmed: "We remain committed to the Scorcher T/A name and have no plans to change it."
She added that Michelin is continuing to try to find a solution that will be acceptable to the city´s Board of Supervisors prior to their March 6 meeting.
Could Michelin be held liable as a result of an injury or death claimed to have been related to a colored tire? "It´s a very long shot," said Gregory C. Keating, a professor of law at the University of Southern California who specializes in such cases. "I think the view courts would take with these tires and gang violence is that Michelin didn´t induce this kind of behavior. They didn´t market it for gang members to go out, buy it and incite gang violence."
News media in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the tires´ purpose and initial promotion were first called into question, haven´t grown tired of the controversy over the colorized tire. An evening news anchor wryly noted that it wasn´t so long ago that when consumers thought of Michelin tires, the image that came to mind was an adorable baby standing in a stack of tires, not trendy tires with a somewhat—and some would say overblown—sinister reputation.