Firestone Has Been Here Before -- Parallels Exist With 1978 Recall
                    September 6, 2000

                    By TIMOTHY AEPPEL
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Talk about deja vu.

                                         Hovering over Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s
                                         current recall fiasco is an episode in the 1970s
                                         that holds strange parallels to today: the
                                         Firestone 500. That one is still the granddaddy
                                         of tire recalls by dint of sheer size. Firestone
                    ultimately recalled 13 million radial tires -- twice the number targeted
                    this time, though the number is growing.

                    Then, as now, the company appeared blindsided by the furor set off by
                    the recall and made huge tactical blunders, such as initially trying to
                    blame customers for not taking good care of their tires.

                    "Firestone violated the basic rules of a recall, and they're doing the
                    same today," says Dirk Gibson, an associate professor at the University
                    of New Mexico who studies product recalls. The first rule is to act
                    quickly; back in the 1970s, the company fought the government for
                    months before agreeing to replace the tires. This time, questions are
                    being raised whether Firestone knew the problem was there for years
                    but turned a blind eye.

                    In the wake of the 1978 recall, there was a flurry of proposals for
                    regulatory changes aimed at tightening federal tire standards. But
                    nearly all of these moves were dropped or sharply watered down after
                    the Reagan administration came into office and proclaimed one its goals
                    to be lightening the regulatory burden on business.

                    One proposal was to require the auto and tire industries to come up
                    with a system for warning drivers when the pressure in their tires had
                    dropped dangerously low, either through a red button that would pop
                    up from the stem of a tire or a light on the dashboard. Underinflation
                    has arisen as an issue in the latest recall. That proposal was scotched
                    after the industry argued it was too inaccurate and costly.

                    Other proposals that were ultimately dropped included requiring tire
                    makers to print identification numbers on a tire's exterior, rather than
                    interior, sidewall, thereby making it easier for consumers to check the
                    origin of their tires. Regulators also proposed making mandatory a
                    voluntary system for registering tires sold through independent tire

                    Both proposals have implications for the current recall. Having a number
                    clearly visible makes it easier for consumers to check the origin of tires,
                    and a mandatory reporting system would make it more certain that
                    people who buy replacement tires are notified of the recall.

                    Most tire makers, including Bridgestone/Firestone, a unit of Japan's
                    Bridgestone Corp., and industry leader Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.,
                    say they favor updating the regulations.

                    Firestone's current tire crisis looks similar to the earlier problem --
                    treads peeling off tires -- though experts say the way the tires are
                    coming apart is different this time around. A 1972 letter from
                    Firestone's director of tire development to another company official,
                    released as part of the government's investigation, warned ominously
                    that problems with the radial tires were so serious that "we are in
                    danger of being cut off from Chevrolet because of tire-separation
                    failures." The problem with the 500 eventually prompted congressional
                    hearings. Guess what is happening in Washington this week?

                    Or consider this: In 1978, Firestone announced some consumers might
                    have to wait as long as a year for replacement tires, outraging
                    consumers and industry critics. Fast forward to last month.

                    And while Americans may think our society was less litigious in decades
                    past, apparently not when it came to tire failures. By the time Firestone
                    signed a final recall agreement with the government, in late 1978, it
                    faced more than 250 civil cases alleging faulty radial tires caused
                    personal injuries, a host of class-action suits and a virtual rebellion
                    among customers. At least one thing was different: The Firestone 500
                    was linked by the government to 41 deaths, whereas the alleged toll
                    this time is twice that and growing.

                    Most of the failures then, as now, were reported in areas of the country
                    with higher temperatures. Heat speeds the breakdown of any tire. And
                    as now, part of Firestone's defensive posture was to suggest many
                    consumers brought problems on themselves by underinflating their tires
                    by four pounds, the exact same discrepancy that has arisen now.
                    Firestone says its tires should be filled to 30 pounds per square inch;
                    Ford directed drivers to fill them to 26.

                    If the past is any guide, ferreting out the cause of the current tire
                    failures will be difficult. Only after federal investigations in the 1970s did
                    the cause of the failures finally surface. In its rush to adopt what was
                    then new radial-tire technology, Firestone had increased the level of a
                    compound called Resorcinol mixed into the rubber that is used to hold
                    the steel belts together. The problem is that over a longer period of
                    time, the more Resorcinol that is added to the rubber, the worse the
                    adhesion, according to Firestone's own experts at the time. Thus the
                    steel belts separated in the company's last tire crisis over 20 years ago.