Continental avoids tire-recall scrutiny

CHARLOTTE, NC: Continental Tire's voluntary recall of 595,000 tires evoked memories of the Bridgestone/Firestone crisis of 2000-2001, but that connection appears to have been quelled.

CHARLOTTE, NC: Continental Tire's voluntary recall of 595,000 tires evoked memories of the Bridgestone/Firestone crisis of 2000-2001, but that connection appears to have been quelled.

The two tire models involved were provided as original equipment on certain 2000 and 2001 models of the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.

The problem appears to be related to tread separation, which was also identified when 6.5 million Firestone tires, used on the Ford Explorer, were recalled. A number of deaths had been attributed to the problem, as well as to related rollovers. Both companies experienced severe credibility damage, in part because each of their PR strategies tended to focus on blaming the other company.

But as The Washington Post reported, Continental's message was that the defects were discovered early through the company's internal processes.

"The effort has redoubled since the Firestone recall, the paper reported.

Nevertheless, reporters were quick to seize on the parallels at first.

"Initially, a lot of the coverage and questions were of the 'here we go again' variety, said Todd Nissen, Ford's public affairs manager of global service issues. "We tried to make it clear that this was a very different situation, and I think the questions and the coverage from the first early hours went to more specifics about this recall."

Nissen said that few reporters he has worked with have questioned the overall safety of the SUV. "We are quick to point out there is no indication that the SUV these tires are on is any part of the problem," he said.

"It is not something we have needed to proactively go out and address."

Continental's PR team worked closely with Ford on the announcement, avoiding any hint of blame. "It's kind of the same in PR as it is on the product level, explained Katharina Konowalski, Continental's manager of corporate communications. "It's a very close relationship and partnership."

The company set up a toll-free hotline and a website at www.contigentire.com to field questions from consumers.

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