Saturday, September 09, 2000

Firestone or not, tires scarce

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Those looking for a new set of P235/75R15-size tires could have to wait awhile, even if they aren't Firestones.

        Last month's Firestone recall on some of those same-size tires has had a ripple effect on supply throughout the country.

        An Enquirer survey of about half the Tristate's tire retailers — there are more than 180 in the Yellow Pages — shows that the size in question is scarce, regardless of the brand. And actual Firestone replacements are almost nonexistent at most Ford and Firestone dealerships participating in the recall.

        “There is a definite supply problem, but we're working through it, and we can usually get someone into some tires if they want out that day,” Dan Brogan, who owns three area Firestone franchises, said Friday. “We're helping as well as we can with the shortage. We are supplying competitive tires, and most people have been easy to get along with and understand the situation.”

        On Aug. 9, Firestone of Nashville, Tenn., issued a voluntary recall of its ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires in that size if they were made at the company's Decatur, Ill., plant.

        A manufacturing defect causing the tread to separate from the tire caused the recall, and is being blamed for numerous accidents and as many as 88 deaths.

        The tires were primarily supplied as original equipment on Ford Explorers, and more than 6.5 million tires are affected by the recall.

        Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said Friday about 2 million tires have been replaced. The initial timetable of finishing the recall next summer has been advanced to March, he said.

        The initial efforts were focused on southern states, he said, since the defect was more apt to flare up in hot weather.

        Mr. Vaughn also said three Ford plants have stopped making Explorers so new tires can be used as part of the recall instead.

        Firestone officials did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

        The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Sept. 1 also issued a consumer advisory for even more Firestone tires designed for sport-utility vehicles and light trucks.

        The number of Ford Explorers affected locally was not immediately available, but the run on that size tire affects other models as well, since the tires can be purchased for other light trucks or sport-utility vehicles.

        During Friday's dealer survey, some dealers merely laughed when asked if they had that size in stock, while others told of waiting lists.

        Scott Pohlman, manager of Kutney Tire Automotive in West Chester, said he is sold out of the Goodyear model that Ford has recommended as a replacement. The same is true at Shamrock Tire. Inc. in Norwood.

        “It put the fear in a lot of people,” said Shamrock manager Ed DeJonckheere. “People are concerned about their safety.”

        Don Edwards, 71, of Anderson Township, had little trouble finding new tires for his 1999 maroon Explorer. But he paid $628 for five tires — including the spare — and is upset that the form he got from the Firestone dealer offers only $100 per tire.

        “I don't like this one iota,” Mr. Edwards said. “I don't know what to do about it, but I hear talk of a lawsuit. Maybe they can count me in.”

        No dealers reported raising their prices in light of the recall, although Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley says he's been contacted by hundreds of people who say they still can't get tires.

        “Those tires are unsafe and they're still not getting them off the road,” said Mr. Chesley, who has filed a class-action lawsuit against Ford over the recall process.

        Greg Thieman, regional manager for Procare Automotive Centers, which oper ates about 20 stores in Greater Cincinnati, said his company was working with Firestone directly to handle replacements, even though many stores don't sell tires directly.

        He also said tires without decorative raised white lettering on the outside are a lot more available than those with the lettering.

        Officials at two of the area's largest tire retailers — Bob Sumerel Tires and Michel Tires — say supply in some brands has been a problem.

        But both chains say tires can be had the same day if the customer doesn't want to wait for a certain brand. The recommended Goodyear replacements have been especially popular, say dealers.

        “Demand has been very strong, and yes, we are out of some of the replacements,” said Craig Sumerel, director of retail operations for the 28-store Sumerel chain. “But we're looking at it as a positive, trying to win over new customers.”

        Said Craig Malis, regional vice president for Michel Tires, which operates 30 locations in Greater Cincinnati: “I'm micromanaging this so much that I even have a list of customers that may have to wait.”

        One of those customers, Mike Nie, a Green Township fireman, said he doesn't mind waiting, even though the tires on his red 1999 Explorer are eligible for the recall.

        “I wanted the higher-end Bridgestones, and I don't feel like my current tires are unsafe, so why panic?” said Mr. Nie, 38, whose tires are still on order.

        He said he was initially angered by the response at the Ford dealership where he took the vehicle.

        “They brushed me off and said it was Firestone's problem,” he said. “If I were in a big huge hurry, it would have upset me more.”

        Many dealers report that there is an upturn in business overall, with many drivers looking to ditch the Fire stones currently on their cars, regardless of the model.

        “If it has the Firestone name, they don't want it,” said Lorin Asher, manager of Tire Discounters in Fairfax. “(Customers) don't want them on their car, whether they're recalled or not. It's doubling our sales.”

       Dave Eck and Jenny Callison contributed to this report.


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