In August 1900 Harvey S. Firestone established The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. He seized on a new way of making carriage tires and started production with 12 employees in Akron, Ohio. From the start, Firestone worked relentlessly to improve quality and meet the needs of his customers. His hard work and dedication paid off in 1906 when Firestone tires was chosen by Henry Ford for the first mass-produced automobiles in America. In 1911, to put his tires to the ultimate test and for publicity, Firestone began what would become a legendary history in car racing by entering and winning the first Indy 500.
On the other side of the globe, Shojiro Ishibashi was transforming his small family business from making a traditional Japanese footwear called tabi, into a modern manufacturing enterprise. Ishibashi had established a viable business after patenting a rubber-soled tabi in 1923. In 1928, Ishabashi began research on tires with the ambition of becoming the first Japanese manufacturer.
The Bridgestone Tire Co., Ltd. was founded in 1931. Conscience of the Japanese consumer’s love of American products, and cognizant of the global market, Ishibashi came up with the company name by reversing the English translation of his own name: “Ishibashi,” which literally means, “stone-bridge” in Japanese. He preferred the sound of Bridgestone. It was very similar to Firestone, a company he greatly admired. Bridgestone entered the U.S. market in 1967 through a sales subsidiary in California.
In 1988, Bridgestone purchased Firestone, signaling the transformation of Bridgestone into a truly global corporation. Bridgestone and Firestone operations in the Americas were consolidated in 1990 under a unified organization called Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. Bridgestone/Firestone claims to carry on a tradition of excellence established by its founders, blending Japanese and American methods to provide quality products.
Their philosophy is summed up by the mottos of Bridgestone’s and Firestone’s former leaders. Ishibashi challenged his associates to “Serve Society with Products of Superior Quality”. Harvey Firestone’s constant goal for his company was to be “Best Today – Still Better Tomorrow. It is obvious that the mottos of yesterday were not being followed today or disaster would not have struck when Firestone/Bridgestone’s tires started literally falling apart on the highways.
Prior to the recall, Bridgestone was clearly the number two tire maker in both U.S. and European markets and had become somewhat active in places like South America and the Middle East in hopes that one day the company would reach their overall goal. Bridgestone/Firestone’s goal was to win 20% of the world market by 2000, making them the industry’s undisputed global leader. In a business where volume is the key to profits that goal seemed realistic.
In the wake of Bridgestone/Firestone problems with manufacturing and selling defective tires to consumers and allegedly knowing about the potential defects since early 1996, Bridgestone/ Firestone undoubtedly will never obtain their goal. It was first announced on August 9, 2000, that Bridgestone/Firestone had announced a voluntary recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires purchased by consumers and supplied to Ford Motor Company.
The tires were standard equipment on most of their Ford Explorer Sport Utility Vehicles. According to a Bridgestone/Firestone spokesperson, they were now responding to consumers concerns about tire tread separation that had been reported as the cause of many fatal accidents. Bridgestone/Firestone continued to deny any reports that their tires were defective. They blamed the cause of most of the accidents by consumers driving SUV’s to improper tire pressure and claimed the accidents had nothing to do with defective tires.
It was only after extensive media coverage detailing problems and deaths associated with the tires that Bridgestone/Firestone decided to become proactive in replacing the defective tires. When the report first came out, 43 people had been reported in fatalities. Since the initial report, the number has increased to 103 fatalities with injuries to 400. That count is expected to rise each day until tires have been completely removed from the road.
Recent reports uncovered that Bridgestone/Firestone knew about the quality control problems at their Decatur tire plant in Illinois. Memos and tire tests reports are now surfacing suggesting the tires were never properly tested and that tire test data showed bad results were hidden from consumers and perhaps even from Ford. In a 1996 Bridgestone/Firestone test, the reports showed problems with these same tires now under recall. In that same 1996 report, it was documented that eight of the eighteen tires pulled from production line had failed the speed test according to the report.