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BFS expecting brighter second-half performance

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Although Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. took heavy losses during the first half of this year, the tire maker is forecasting a much brighter second half and new life for its embattled brand.

During the first six months, sales of Firestone-brand consumer tires declined 40 to 50 percent from the first half of 2000, a company spokeswoman said. But she points out that Firestone had an extremely good first six months of last year, prior to the recall.

``The first half of last year was gangbusters,'' she said. ``The overall sales for 2000, even taking into account the negative effects of the recall, were...the same as 1999.''

The losses the company has suffered so far this year, although bad, were still better than what the tire maker had budgeted, the spokeswoman said. For the next two quarters BFS is forecasting sales of the brand will fall only 7 percent.

``I don't think we believe the effects of the recalls are permanent,'' she said. ``This year the recall has had an effect on us, but our goal is to make up for that.''

Since the first recall one year ago, the tire maker has not lost any of the 8,000 dealers in its family channels, she noted. John Gamauf, vice president of consumer tire sales at the tire maker, and his group have personally reached out to more than half of those dealers.

``They (the dealers) have been so loyal and so supportive that they're going to be one of the major tools to bring the brand back,'' the spokeswoman said.

Another important alliance is Bridgestone/Firestone's long history with race driver Mario Andretti, dating back to the 1970s. ``When the recall started to hit (last year), both Mario and Michael Andretti approached us and asked us what they could do to help,'' she said.

The senior Andretti has won the Indianapolis 500 on Firestone tires, and his son Michael currently rides on the tires in Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) races, she said. The two have visited Firestone's independent dealers with Mr. Gamauf, sharing their personal experiences with the tires. Their support and the support of the company's dealers ``has been extremely heartening,'' the spokeswoman said. ``That is an asset and a resource that is just immeasurable in value.''

In another show of confidence stemming from the original equipment arena, late in July BFS was named a General Motors Corp. Supplier of the Year for the sixth year running.

``It's not to say that it's not going to be rough,'' the spokeswoman said. ``But based on the people...who are willing to commit to the brand, we really believe that we're going to be able to bring the Firestone brand back to where it was.''

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