When it all went down, the media called Bridgestone/Firestone’s split from Ford
a "bitter divorce," comparing it to the Charles-Diana split.
That little Brit spat was nothing. Not when you’re watching these companies go at it like two jealous cheerleaders slap-fighting in the school hallway.
Lost in all the moaning about the end of a century-old relationship, about the public ungluing of a sacred corporate bond, about Harvey and Henry turning over in their graves was one little question.
"Red hot one-sided, no-profit OE contracts! Who wants ‘em?"
While BFS termed its decision to quit Ford "excruciating," it was about time. It should have happened the second Jac Nasser uttered the phrase, "It’s not a vehicle issue, it’s a tire issue."
After almost a year of playing the dutiful business partner, of getting punked by Ford’s muscular and myopic PR machine, BFS finally put it’s bruised and battered foot down.
And that opened the floodgates of speculation about who or whom would be Ford’s next "partner."
"What has happened between Firestone and Ford is not simply a failure of two businesses based on one fatal problem … It is the failure of two dependent industries to achieve a fair and equitable working relationship after 100 years," the Akron Beacon Journal observed following BFS’s divorce declaration.
"If what is happening were only about Firestone and Ford, then Goodyear, Michelin and other tire makers would be leaping into the breach ®€ƒ Instead, the other tire makers responded with a notable reserve. Yes, Goodyear is interested – if it can make a deal that works for it as well as Ford. There have been few such deals between Ford and the tire makers, whom Ford has whipsawed for years, extracting from them prices so paltry they yielded next to no profits."
While Goodyear, Michelin, Cooper, Continental and others have geared-up to meet the push for 13 million more light truck/SUV tires, do you think they want the same kind of OE relationship BFS had with Ford? With Ford’s historically lowball prices, Mendoza-line profits, and clearly demonstrated disdain for its "business partners?"
Last year Goodyear lost $60 million on OE tire sales. $60 million! Goodyear chucked away millions of otherwise safe, useable tires because of minor specification flaws. Do you think Goodyear’s bottom line can withstand the kind of relationship Ford had with BFS?
Michelin prides itself on its "quality" position in the market, supported by the truckload of J.D. Power & Associates awards it’s collected. Do you think super-secret Michelin wants to open its files to federal investigators if Ford decides "it’s a tire issue"? How many years of baby ads would it take to recover from the scars a public flogging by Ford would leave?
Cooper has OE business through its Cooper-Standard unit, and surely yearns for a tire contract. But will its midwestern sensibilities allow it to enter a high-risk/no-reward relationship with an automaker that has recalled over eight million vehicles since 1999? For things as axles that fall off and airbags that self-deploy?
Continental wants OE relationships – for its integrated corner system. Would it like some more OE tire biz for its General brand? Sure. Is it worth the headaches? Hhhmmm.
In the end, Bridgestone will have lost well over $1 billion on last year’s recall, and hundreds of millions more in the aftershock of having 20.5 million of its tires pulled off North American vehicles. Not from a tire problem, but from a partner problem.
Someone will end up with Ford’s OE business. My fervent hope – for the sake of the entire industry – is that whatever deal is struck marks a sharp turning point in all OE relationships. Pricing and profits must improve. Tire experts must have more control. And automakers must quit expecting tires to solve their poor engineering.
I have this image in my mind of a smock-clad Jac Nasser hawking hot dogs at the ball park. "Get ‘em while they’re hot," he bellows, stomping up and down the aisles, hotbox strapped to his neck and hot dog tongs at the ready.
And I see Sam Gibara, Jim Micali, Bernd Fragenberg and Tom Dattilo sitting in the midday sun, ears perked by Nasser’s incessant barking. Each of them thinking, "A nice hot dog with mustard sounds good right now. I just hope it won’t come back on me later."
So it should be.