Ford can’t duck all the blame for tire mess

OPINION
 

This is no time for Ford Motor Co. to declare victory in the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire mess and try just to drive on.

It is time for intellectual honesty. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wanted more of the ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires recalled and Firestone surrendered, which Ford says exonerates Ford and proves the tires were to blame in 271 deaths.

Ford is morally culpable.

Unlike other components on an automobile, tires traditionally have been warranted separately by the supplier. But that’s no excuse, because that’s not the way most people buy cars and trucks. When consumers buy a Ford, they expect the tires to meet the same quality and performance standards as engines or transmissions or radios.

There is no moral or social indemnity. No matter what NHTSA says, Ford has a moral responsibility. The Explorer is no more likely to tip over than other sport-utilities during a tire separation. But the Explorer was more likely to have a tire separation. That may be Firestone’s fault. But it’s also the fault of Ford, which apparently bought those tires based on price, not performance.

Once the catastrophe became known, Ford acted forcefully, spending $3 billion to get those bad tires off the road. Firestone acted despicably. It used a scorched-earth policy on its unsuspecting customer and fought NHTSA, trying to keep those bad tires on the road.

It’s good that Ford now is flyspecking repair orders at dealerships to avoid another catastrophe and will be more demanding of its suppliers, including tire makers. It’s good that Ford has improved its tire warranty database. But none of that helps those Ford customers who died or lost family members because they trusted the Ford name. Nor will finger-pointing, gloating and verbal sniping help them.

Ford — and the rest of the industry — must learn from this horrible chapter. Tires are too important to performance and safety to be thought of as separate from the rest of the vehicle.

NFL sacked NADA

The National Automobile Dealers Association tried very hard to do the right thing when the National Football League capriciously wanted to swap its Super Bowl Sunday date with NADA’s convention weekend in New Orleans.

When NADA ultimately surrendered to mounting pressure and agreed to hold its convention a week earlier, from Jan. 26 to Jan. 29, 2002, the association inconvenienced many of its members, plus exhibitors and manufacturers that already had plans. It also settled for $7.5 million in reparations from the NFL, which might not cover its costs.

Despite the sacrifices, car dealers suffered a public relations black eye because the public did not understand what is involved in moving the convention date.

So much for good intentions.

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