NEW YORK (June 11, 2001)—In a recent survey of public relations executives, some two out of three participants said they disapproved of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s decision to drop Ford Motor Co. as an original equipment customer in the Americas.
The survey, conducted among the member companies of the Council of Public Relations Firms, a trade association, found that 66 percent of the 87 senior executives taking part disagreed with Firestone´s severing of its 95-year relationship with Ford.
Almost an equal number (65 percent) agreed with Ford´s decision to spend $3 billion to replace 13 million of the Firestone Wilderness AT tires now on Ford vehicles.
Jack Bergen, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms, said the survey was conducted "to examine this landmark communications issue, which could have a profound impact on corporate relationships, brand value and consumer attitudes for years to come."
Survey respondents were asked:
1) To evaluate options open to Bridgestone/Firestone in seeking to restore consumer confidence, including eliminating the Firestone brand name, offering a $100,000 quality guarantee on each new tire, publicly blaming Ford´s Explorer for the accidents, and hiring a highly credible spokesperson;
2) Their opinion as to how both companies´ actions are being perceived; and
3) Whether the shattered relationship and ensuing hostility between Ford and Firestone—unprecedented in the history of American business—could have been avoided.
Among the comments voiced by those disagreeing with Firestone´s action were:
"From a vendor perspective, Firestone should have done everything in its power to make things right for Ford. It´s just not good business, not to mention cutting off a major source of cash flow for them."
"They (BFS) were able to damage Ford, but did nothing to restore confidence in their own products."
"By drawing a line in the sand, Bridgestone/Firestone has passed the point of no return. They now have an antagonistic relationship with Ford, rather than a joint initiative to ensure safety and demonstrate their product´s quality."
"It makes Firestone look churlish, vindictive and defensive."
"Nobody wins in a war. It´s important to point out that people´s loyalty to their car is far greater than to the brand of tire they have on that car. Ford—not Firestone—is in the driver´s seat."
On the other hand, some of the comments given by survey participants who agreed with Bridgestone/Firestone´s action were:
"The car and the tires are a bad combination, and Firestone did what should have been done."
"Knowing that Ford was going to launch a massive recall of their tires, Bridgestone/Firestone had to do something dramatic to avoid having the final nail put in its reputation."
"Their accusations may appear to appear baseless and seem desperate. But if Ford was not being an open partner and was trying to make them scapegoats, then the separation may help Firestone make a clean break."
"If Bridgestone/Firestone´s product is safe, but it´s being used in an unsafe manner, the tire company had no other choice."
Asked what they saw as Bridgestone/Firestone's best course of action in seeking to regain credibility and prevent further erosion of its U.S. market share, 62 percent of the survey's respondents said the tire maker should vigorously defend and demonstrate the safety of its Firestone-brand tires by providing clear details of manufacturing improvements as well as support from independent safety experts and agencies.