by Jim Bennett
New products and services are the lifeblood of any company, especially in times of adversity. Bridgestone's new product demonstration at the Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, promises to be an exciting event. Reviews Online will be there to listen, look, learn and most importantly drive the new product that Bridgestone is introducing in 2001, after a very rough 2000.
Bridgestone's roots can be traced back to 1930 when founder Shojiro Ishibashi made his first tire in the Japanese city of Krume. One year later, he established Bridgestone Tire Co Ltd. and in 1934, he began full scale production. His company became Japan's largest tire manufacturer by 1953 and developed Japan's first radial tires for cars in 1964.
In 1967, Bridgestone established their United States marketing subsidiary. In 1983, it acquired a production facility in Tennessee from Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Porsche adopted Bridgestone's RE71 ultra high-performance tires as factory equipment on its limited edition 959 sports car, the world's fastest production car in 1986. Bill Gates reportedly still owns one.
On the business side, Bridgestone acquired Firestone, the second largest tire manufacturer in the United States, for $2.6 billion in 1990. A year later, Bridgestone's North American operations and Firestone were merged and the result is called Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. This marked the end of the independent Firestone Tire & Rubber Company that was started in 1900, by Harvey Firestone in Akron, Ohio, with 12 employees.
Bridgestone/Firestone is headquarterd in Nashville, Tennessee and oversees 38 production facilities throughout the Americas. It operates as a subsidiary of the Tokyo based Bridgestone Corporation, which has production facilities throughout the world. The company's philosophy is based on blending Japanese and American methods to provide quality products and to serve society with products of superior quality. This goal has been severely tested and will be for decades to come, based on current events.
Perhaps influencing this Phoenix event is the racing heritage that has been an important element of both companies success for nearly one hundred years. In 1911, Ray Harroun drove his Marmon Wasp on Firestone tires to victory in the very first Indianapolis 500. Recent racing and high performance activities have included a successful return to Indy car racing in 1995. In 1997, their high performance tires competed in International Formula One races and won the drivers' and constructors' championships the following year. Bridgestone/Firestone feels that racing helps them gain new insights and information in order to design and build better tires for everyday driving.
In a nutshell, Bridgestone/Firestone, Ford Motor Company, consumers and others are currently involved in "the Explorer accident situation" at various levels and intensities. Since August 2000, tire tread separations in Firestone tires have been linked to almost 150 deaths, recalls of over 6 million tires, around 500 injuries and over 200 lawsuits. All parties are trying to determine the prime cause of these accidents, fix the problems and determine the resulting liability. This may take years to find a solution and it is quite possible that no single "root" cause may be found.
What's clear is that consumers will be deciding with their pocketbooks more quickly than any analysis or litigation, when they buy new vehicles or replacement tires. New product introductions like this one may help start rebuilding the Bridgestone/Firestone brand image. When coupled with guarantees that exceed consumer expectations and combined with proof of performance, durability, quality and safety, the brand and company has a reasonable chance to survive.
In early November 2000, during the massive SEMA and International Tire Expo in Las Vegas, several attendees told me that Bridgestone was going to make a huge effort to regain consumer and media confidence. They added that this important initiative came from the highest executive levels in both Japan and America. They plan to focus on consumer concerns, tire maintenance through advertising and special ride & drives that emphasize the Bridgestone brand image. Racing celebrities may also be used.
Reviews Online went Firebird Raceway in Phoenix to experience one of these efforts. Read that article.