DETROIT-In addition to its typical look into overall consumer satisfaction with original equipment and replacement tires, J.D. Power and Associates this year is surveying the impact of recalls on public opinion.
Nearly a year after the initial recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires last August, the overall trust of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. may not endure much of a drop, said Jeff Zupancec, senior manager for Laguna Hills, Calif.-based J.D. Power's Commercial Vehicles Department.
Because product recalls are fairly common, Mr. Zupancec said that a faulty product is not likely to drive its producer out of business. The same should hold true with Firestone, he added, even in the wake of a recent recall by Ford Motor Co. of an additional 13 million Firestone tires.
``What it really comes down to is, when something is not right about the product or if it is defective, what is the outcome? If these are just angry consumers who have had tread separation (problems), you wouldn't even hear about it,'' Mr. Zupancec said.
The media has focused on the issue because Firestone tires are alleged to have caused accidents that resulted in 203 U.S. deaths, but only a few tire models and primarily one type of vehicle, the Ford Explorer, are involved. Even if the Firestone tires are proved at fault, Mr. Zupancec said, a failure by a particular tire isn't likely to cause consumers to give up on the brand completely.
On the other hand, he said that should investigations prove it was the Explorer, not the tire, causing lethal accidents, then Firestone could wind up smelling like proverbial roses.
It depends on what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds out, he said. ``It could flip on them, and they could say there is a problem with the Explorer,'' he said. ``Then Firestone could get a perk. The key is, what is the expectation on the tire and vehicle sides? (NHTSA) are like the judge and jury in this.
``The biggest issue for Firestone is, all their profits come from the reputation department. They need consumer confidence to be high.''
Mr. Zupancec said J.D. Power will publish data this month or in August based on surveys conducted regarding OE and replacement tires. He said there should be more than 30,000 respondents in the OE survey, 9,000 for the replacements. Those surveys will be accompanied by a special report that will look into the effect product recalls have on the industry.
``We feel it's far enough away from the initial recall (last August),'' he said. ``What we're looking for is to see if there's any long-term effect as far as consumer satisfaction. Safety might have had a smaller role (on consumer satisfaction) in the past. The media could change that. We'll look at the data and see if there are any fundamental changes.''
Whatever the surveys reveal-and perhaps no matter what potential findings NHTSA might have to offer, Mr. Zupancec summed up the industry's products and the buying public's general feelings about them.
``Tires,'' he said, ``are still all round and black.''