Firestone and Ford shift into crisis mode over massive SUV tire recall

NASHVILLE: Firestone and Ford face a major PR challenge in coming weeks as they proceed with a recall of 6.5 million tires - a challenge, according to crisis pros, that will require the two companies to demonstrate compassion for consumers while remaining cautious not to reveal information that could come back to haunt them in a courtroom.

NASHVILLE: Firestone and Ford face a major PR challenge in coming weeks as they proceed with a recall of 6.5 million tires - a challenge, according to crisis pros, that will require the two companies to demonstrate compassion for consumers while remaining cautious not to reveal information that could come back to haunt them in a courtroom.

NASHVILLE: Firestone and Ford face a major PR challenge in coming

weeks as they proceed with a recall of 6.5 million tires - a challenge,

according to crisis pros, that will require the two companies to

demonstrate compassion for consumers while remaining cautious not to

reveal information that could come back to haunt them in a

courtroom.



To date, 46 deaths have been attributed to the failure of Firestone SUV

and small-truck tires. Because most of the recalled tires are on Ford

Explorer SUVs, the two companies announced the recall jointly.



Still, one possible PR pitfall lies ahead: reports last week suggested

that Ford recalled the tires in several other countries last year.



’There have been rumors that past tests could have given warnings of a

problem,’ said Brad Pucky, associate director of brand intelligence with

Corporate Branding. ’If this is the case, if (Firestone and Ford)

haven’t been protective of consumers, they will lose consumer

loyalty.’



Mike Vaughn, public affairs manager for service programs at Ford, said

the automaker did recall some Firestone tires in the Middle East last

August, but said at the time that Ford had no evidence the tires were

causing problems in the US. Vaughn sits on the recall team, so PR has

been involved throughout the process.



’This is crisis mode,’ Vaughn admitted, adding that Ford has not brought

in any outside crisis-management help. Firestone has been working with

Fleishman-Hillard, which took on the account several weeks before the

recall.



While last week’s recall mostly involved tires on Ford Explorers, other

automakers moved quickly to allay consumer fears that their cars are

outfitted with faulty tires.



Subaru of America began contacting dealers, employees and affiliates a

week before the recall. ’We’ve been working around the clock, putting

out releases noting that Subaru Outbacks use a different type of

Firestone tire,’ said Subaru corporate communications manager Bob Moran.

’There’s a sense that there’s a lot of misinformation about the

recall.’



Firestone, for its part, has proceeded with a classic product-recall

strategy, defining which models are affected and the originating plant

of the defective tires. But the recall is being done on a phased basis

due to a limited number of replacement tires, thus possibly stretching

the recall into next year. Firestone and Ford execs admit that they are

leaving themselves vulnerable to criticism about the safety risk posed

to people still using the tires.



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