AKRON (June 29, 2001)— “Ho hum…another tire recall? Wake me up when it's over.”
That may not be the reaction everywhere to Ford Motor Co.'s unilateral decision a month ago to replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its Explorers and other Ford vehicles. But customers apparently aren't beating down the doors of tire dealerships across the land clamoring for replacement tires for their sport-utility vehicles.
Actually, while a number of Ford dealerships have indeed seen an increase in traffic due to their auto maker's decision, there's barely been a recall ripple in tire dealerships, according to several companies contacted by Tire Business. At least the latest action has failed to generate the same panicked frenzy some motorists experienced as a result of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s recall last August of 6.5 million light truck tires.
But after a month since its start, Ford's initiative has created shortages of 15-inch tires, said Jeff McQuaide, service advisor for Montrose Ford in Copley, Ohio.
“We've done a couple hundred vehicles so far,” Mr. McQuaide said. “The 15 (inch tires) are the hardest to come by. We have a couple hundred people on the waiting list.”
Montrose Ford is replacing Firestone tires with Goodyear's Wranglers and Michelin's LTX and BFGoodrich tires, he said.
Rich Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Tire & Alignment, an American Car Care Centers Inc. store in Fayetteville, Ga., told Tire Business he averages one or two customers per week requesting replacements for the Firestone tires on their Ford sport-utility vehicles and trucks.
“We're not seeing the hyper rush we did the first time when people thought they were going to die,” he said, noting that he thinks people are now just looking for free tires.
One customer with a 2001 Ford Explorer visited Mr. Hoffman's dealership and asked if he had to change the vehicle's Wilderness AT tires, saying they've been “the best tire” he's ever had on his cars, including two other Explorers he owned.
The few customers with Ford trucks and SUVs that do visit Hoffman Tire ask for the Michelin LTX to replace their Firestones, Mr. Hoffman said, but he has been unable to receive Michelin tires in all of the light truck sizes that are needed. He claimed that Ford dealers in his area are receiving first priority on Goodyear, Michelin and General brands on Ford's approved tire list.
In the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park, Ohio, Bob Gillingham Ford has been keeping up with demand for Firestone replacements and has been receiving tires from various distributors, said Service Manager Scott Acker. The dealership so far is turning about 250 tires a week, he said.
“The supply is replenished almost on a daily basis,” said owner Bob Gillingham. “We're able, in most cases, to let customers wait for their cars so they don't have to wait around a long time.”
Berlin, Wis.-based Badger State Tire also has had difficulty in receiving the recall-approved brands and is referring its customers to local Ford dealers, said owner Tom Merryfield. His dealership was overwhelmed during BFS' recall, he said, but panic now has died down—almost to a state of apathy.
“I think there are a lot of people who at some point made the decision not to do anything,” Mr. Merryfield said. “I've seen people now who are still running on those old tires that were never changed over from the initial recall.”
At B&B Ford in Barnwell, S.C., the flow of customers seeking replacements has been steady, with about 240 Firestone tires replaced in three weeks, said Service Manager Charles Anderson. B&B is using Michelin LTX tires and some BFGoodrich tires as replacements.
But Mr. Anderson acknowledged there has been no “big rush,” and customers are less hectic about service than during BFS' recall.
“One out of every 10 (is irritable),” Montrose Ford's Mr. McQuade said. “Maybe a customer will say, 'What if something happens out on the road and this blows up?' Most of (the tires) have been on the road for thousands of miles.”
At the almost 600 Tires Plus stores nationwide, the latest recall-related silence has been deafening.
Larry Morgan, CEO of the company—which last year became the merged by-product of Team Tires Plus Ltd. in Minnesota and Mr. Morgan's Clearwater, Fla.-based Morgan Tire & Auto Inc.—said that, overall, “business has been so-so—the tire business is tough everywhere. I think the recall with Ford hasn't generated as much excitement as the industry thought it would, as far as doing any extra business.”
“We've got tires (ready),” he told Tire Business. “The reality is, the consumer doesn't seem to be very worried or excited about it. They're getting their letters from Ford and they're trickling into Ford (dealerships). I think, from their perspective, Ford has done a good job trying to get their people to go to their Ford dealership.”
Mr. Morgan has found that “there just doesn't seem to be near the hysteria or sense of urgency that there was last fall” with the original BFS recall.
Like many of his industry colleagues, Mr. Morgan's nationwide dealership gets a lot of competition from local Ford dealers, who are beginning to offer tires to their customers. Tires Plus has, in fact, been selling tires to some of them. But Mr. Morgan has yet to see much increase in customer traffic thanks to Ford's Firestone replacement program.
“I don't know what the real bottom-line outcome will be, whether (Ford dealers) will eventually get enough of a backlog that they'll try to send more (customers) out to tire dealers or not,” he said.
However, he has been hearing from some Explorer owners concerned about the road worthiness of their SUVs. “No question, I think this latest round of finger pointing and bad press certainly has people thinking about it,” he said. “Frankly, what's now come out is what those of us in the tire business have known for a long time: That this is not a tire problem—it's a vehicle problem.”
Mr. Morgan, a longtime Firestone dealer, said he gets “tired of talking about it, but every time anybody addresses the issue with me, I feel obligated to tell them all the facts I know and let them draw their own conclusions.”
He did just that on a recent airplane trip out of Atlanta, when he got into a discussion about Ford and Firestone with a gent in the next seat. “He had an Explorer and I just gave him some facts,” Mr. Morgan related. “I think when I was through with him, he was ready to go home and get rid of his Explorer.”
This report was compiled by Tire Business Staff Reporters Vera Fedchenko, Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk and Todd Stumpf.