Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone are trying to smooth over their past antagonisms as the companies seek a common explanation for fatal accidents involving failed tyres, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday (1/12/00).

Ford and Firestone are now exchanging preliminary findings into the root cause of the tyre failures ahead of each company’s meeting with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials starting Dec. 11 to brief the agency on their respective investigations. The companies apparently want to present a united front to federal regulators and, ultimately, to the public.

Working together is a major departure for Ford and Firestone, which have been sniping at each other since the August 9 recall of 6.5 million tyres, most of which were sold with Ford's popular Explorer sport-utility vehicles. The failure of those tyres is allegedly linked to 119 deaths in the US and more than 40 overseas.

During September congressional hearings into the recall, Ford executives accused Firestone of withholding crucial claims data that could have signalled safety problems much earlier. Firestone, for its part, blamed Ford for recommending tyre-inflation pressures that were too low and allowed inadequate safety margins. Ford insisted repeatedly that the problem was entirely with the tyres. Firestone, the US unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corporation, has said it was exploring problems with tyre design and manufacturing, but also the interaction of the vehicle with the tyre.

But clearly, the companies have concluded that the finger-pointing they engaged in during those public hearings damaged both sides in the eyes of consumers who were left confused and sceptical about both the tyres and the vehicles. In order to move on, both sides need to offer buyers a clear explanation of what went wrong and the assurance that it has been fixed.