Sales of Bridgestone-brand passenger and light truck tires in the U.S. replacement market will outpace those of Firestone-branded products this year for the first time, as Bridgestone/Firestone works to expand the range and scope of the Bridgestone brand, according to Shu Ishibashi, president of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Consumer Tire Sales Group.
That's not to say the Firestone brand is waning, however, Mr. Ishibashi said at the recent launch of the Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tire line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On the contrary, he said, BFS has seen sales of Firestone-branded products level off this year after experiencing a steady decline since the Wilderness/ATX tread separation problems came to light in mid-2000.
In 2001, the Firestone brand share was estimated at 6 percent of the North American replacement passenger tire market and 7 percent of the light truck market, with the Bridgestone brand at 5 percent for each category.
Likewise, BFS expects the Bridgestone brand to become its primary original equipment brand next year, with the 2003/2004 model year changeover, Mr. Ishibashi said.
To expedite the acceptance of the Bridgestone brand, BFS has broadened the brand's market position so that now the lower end Bridgestone products overlap with the higher end Firestone tires, Mr. Ishibashi said.
BFS is planning six new product launches this year, in both the Bridgestone and Firestone brands, as part of its master plan to renew the product line and enhance dealers' ability to boost showroom traffic, Mr. Ishibashi said.
Underscoring the company's resolve to put the Wilderness/ATX problem behind it, BFS executives met one-on-one with most of its independent dealers in the past 18 months to reassure them of the company's commitment to the future. Mr. Ishibashi said the company did not lose a single account during this time, although most dealers have shifted their product mix to feature more Bridgestone, Dayton and other company brands.