It is not uncommon in the auto industry for a company to find that their product has defects. However, earlier this year, Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. had one of the largest tire recalls in history.

Before the initial press conference and tire recall, news reports had surfaced about deaths resulting from Firestone tires. The tires, primarily on sport-utility vehicles like the Ford Explorer, lost their tread which then caused the vehicles to flip over. Despite the mounting evidence and accident reports that had accumulated by the first press conference, Firestone and Ford representatives insisted there was nothing wrong with their tires. They instead blamed the deaths on car owners' poor tire maintenance and inferior driving skills. Their apparent lack of concern simply enraged customers and the public. Later, when charges of criminal negligence and evidence of company cover-ups surfaced, the public was loath to believe or sympathize with the tire manufactures because of their previous callousness.

Surprisingly, the recent tire recalls were not the largest in history, although the Explorer (equipped with Firestone tires) is the top-selling sport-utility vehicle. The Explorer sells so well simply because customers consider it to be among the safest vehicles to drive because of its enormous size. As the public discovered, size is not necessarily a determinant in safety, because the dangerous tread separation on the Firestone tires caused 101 tire-related deaths in the United States and at least 47 other deaths worldwide.

Now evidence has surfaced that Ford and Firestone began receiving reports of tread separation on Explorers in Saudi Arabia at least three years ago. Each month additional reports filtered in and neither company responded responsibly by recalling the tires and telling the public. There are even inter-company memorandums that prove company executives knew about the faulty tires and chose not to warn the public.

In the five months after the story broke to the media, Bridgestone/Firestone tires has gone through three public relations companies. In May, Burson Marstellar, a subsidiary of Young and Rubicam, dropped Bridgestone/Firestone. The following month, Fleishman-Hillard was hired by Firestone to help with the crisis. Two months later, in September, Fleishman-Hillard resigned, stating, "It became evident we could no longer be of service." The following week, Fleishman-Hillard hired Ketchum as their public relations firm.