By the time you read this, the Firestone Wilderness, ATX and ATX II recall will be well underway, and chances are the lawsuits will be, too. This recall is smaller than the radial recall of Firestones...
By the time you read this, the Firestone Wilderness, ATX and ATX II recall will be well underway, and chances are the lawsuits will be, too. This recall is smaller than the radial recall of Firestones in the ‘Seventies, but I suspect it will have a greater impact, not only on Bridgestone/Firestone, but on the tire industry and on everyone who sells, installs, or repairs tires. Think it won’t affect your operation? Maybe not, but I’ll make a few long-range predictions which, if true, will change the way the aftermarket deals with tires.
Prediction 1: Tires will become a much more regulated product. The U.S. will lead, as government agencies such as the NHTSA propose new standards in the wake of the Wilderness, ATX and ATX II lawsuits. Tires may be magnetically coded, or bar coded, and repair or inspection may require record keeping. Repair a tire and a future failure may become partially your responsibility. Tire busting may require special training and certification.
Prediction 2: Low pressure waning systems will become standard equipment on new vehicles. The technology already exists, and given that a new vehicle can tell its owner when to change an oxygen sensor, a dashboard tire OBD warning isn’t a big deal. The big deal for the dealer will occur if the mandatory pressure sensor technology bootstraps run-flat sales, requiring massive reinvestment in new tire changing equipment and training. Even without the run-flats, pressure sensors may require redesigned wheels and mounting equipment.
Prediction 3: Tires will become more expensive and smaller tire manufacturers may be squeezed out. The new products liability regime coming out of the current lawsuits will lead to new testing standards, possibly with special testing certifying each tire as an approved fitment for each vehicle. Replacement tire manufacturers may have to test each fitment individually, leading to tires which may fit multiple vehicles, but which are only certificated for specific models. Fewer consumer choices and higher prices would result, as current industry margins aren’t fat enough to absorb the extra costs entirely. Small manufacturers may simply merge with the majors to survive.
Remember, these are possible outcomes, not what SSGM (or its editor) want to see. More paperwork isn’t going to translate into safer tires, or fewer deaths. Higher prices drive consumers into off-brand products, and may encourage them to delay needed replacements. And the need for service dealers to invest in new equipment long before the current equipment wears out, and the negligible trade-in value of machinery made obsolete does nothing to help the profit crunch. Unfortunately, public pressure on governments to do something, anything, to make them feel safe may overwhelm common sense.
And what about Firestone?
Prediction 4: The ATX, ATX II and Wilderness recall won’t kill either Bridgestone, or the Firestone brand. They’ve been down this road before, and will come to the market with advanced products and the right level of marketing to protect the Firestone banner. Multiple players are a good thing in this market, as the dramatic improvement in tire technology and value over the last decade has proven. In the meantime, however, the tire industry is going to be busy, very busy.