Not their finest hour: Ford and Firestone

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at Ford and Firestone
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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January 10, 2017
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It was a relationship that started more than a century ago, when Henry Ford became friends with Harvey Firestone. Decades later this friendship was further consolidated when Henry's grandson, William Clay Ford Sr, married Harvey's granddaughter, Martha (parents of current Ford chairman Bill Ford), tying the two families and their respective brands together forever. Or so it seemed, until the bond was literally shredded to pieces along with blown tyres and overturned cars.

In the Nineties, still recovering from a massive recall of millions of tyres back in 1978, Firestone needed all the help it could get from Ford. And it got plenty in the form of OEM tyre supply orders for Ford's popular Explorer SUV. Signs of trouble started in 1999 when accidents apparently caused by tyre blowouts were reported from Saudi Arabia, and later Venezuela. Allegedly, neither Firestone nor Ford took these incidents seriously enough to order an early investigation or a recall, and took note only after the problem started to be reported in the American market as well.

With Fords crashing or overturning in the hundreds, the issue snowballed. The NHTSA ordered an inquiry, and found that more than 200 deaths and 3,000 serious injuries were caused by the Firestone tyres on these vehicles blowing out due to tread separation and failure.

After a period of pointing fingers at each other -- Ford blaming Firestone for the tyre failures and Firestone blaming it on Ford's decision to reduce the recommended inflation pressure -- around 14.4 million of Firestone's TX, ATX II, and Wilderness AT (pictured here) tyres were recalled.

But relations soured and reputations were seriously damaged, and this fiasco remains a glaring example of poor corporate management of an evolving crisis.