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CNN Today

Firestone Negotiating with Labor to Avoid Strike amid Growing Consumer Distrust of Brand

Aired September 1, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The Associated Press reports that government plans to issue a consumer warning saying another 1.8 million Bridgestone/Firestone tires are subject to possible safety problems. That's in addition to 6 1/2 million tires already being recalled.

The news comes as Bridgestone/Firestone is just 12 hours away from a possible strike that could cripple the production of replacement tires.

CNN's Ed Garsten in St. Louis, where negotiators are holding around-the-clock talks -- Ed.

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, you're absolutely right. They talked all through the night Thursday night, took a short break this morning; they are back at it.

A union spokesman tells me that they are having face-to-face talks. They have made progress, he says, but some critical issues still remain. He characterized the talks as extensive and intensive. Whether or not they could beat the 12:01 a.m. Central time deadline, he said, that is just too soon to tell.

We also spoke to Firestone on how they thought the talks were going. Firestone has been calling the talks constructive. They also felt that perhaps some progress was made and they were hopeful too that the deadline could be beat.

We did get some indication that if the deadline passed and the talks were still going well that the talks would just keep right on going, that the union certainly didn't have much of an appetite to walk if they didn't have to.

Now how would a strike affect the replacement tire effort? Firestone says it would be minimal. They couldn't tell us how many of the nine plants that would be affected produce replacement tires, but said they felt the replacement effort was ahead of schedule. And because of the shutdown of three Ford plants allowing them to divert some tires into the replacement effort, also the airlift of tires from Japan, and also the use of competitors' tires, they felt pretty good about the replacement effort and that they were ahead of schedule and that a strike would have minimal impact. Kyra, I must tell you, there is some other news on the tire recall front as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has now stepped up its investigation into the tire recall, going from now a preliminary investigation into what they call an engineering analysis, which means that the investigation is now stepped up a notch into a more intense mode.

Also, Associated Press is reporting that later today the federal government may issue a consumer warning for some 1.8 million tires. The brand, the size, the type have not been specified.

So the story continues to become wider and deeper and more developments throughout the day.

Ed Garsten, CNN, reporting live from St. Louis.

PHILLIPS: Firestone used to boast that its name is known wherever wheels are turning and today that name appears to be a liability.

CNN's Susan Candiotti reports that a century after Harvey Firestone started making tires, some think the brand name may be nearing the end of the road.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You won't find any Firestones on display at Joe Kovac's dealership these days.

JOE KOVAC, KOVAC AUTOMOTIVE: The consumer doesn't want to see that right now and we don't want to advertise that right now. Nobody wants to buy a Firestone right now.

CANDIOTTI: For a 100-year-old company, whose equally long relationship with Ford goes all the way back to the Model T, the recall has been a public relations nightmare.

Can the world-class name survive? Not if customers like this couple, who went through the recall, don't change their attitude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't buy Firestone tires again.

CANDIOTTI: Experienced crisis managers say the recall's long- term impact depends on how Japanese-based Bridgestone/Firestone deals with the public; how it responds to widely broadcast, frightening images of fatal accidents and tread separation.

KATHY BLOOMGARDEN, KUDER FINN PUBLIC RELATIONS: They seem to be rather slow, and that has impacted the trust factor with the customer base here in the U.S.

CANDIOTTI: While not admitting any fault, Bridgestone/Firestone insists it's doing all it can to make things right.

CHRISTINE KARHOWLAK, FIRESTONE SPOKESMAN: We're going to get this over with and then move on to rebuilding our brand. CANDIOTTI (on camera): Privately, some dealers say the only way Firestone can fully restore public confidence is to widen the recall, cut its losses and move on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you see here is about 300 tires. We got that shipment in today and they'll most probably be gone by tomorrow.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): This Florida Ford dealer swapped 1,500 tires so far and isn't through yet, though he insists his clients are satisfied with the way Firestone's handling the recall.

But now, a different dilemma: some customers who don't want to buy a new car with Firestone tires.

DAVE MENTEN, FORD DEALER: Some people want the tires switched out, and that clinches the deal. That's what we're going to do. You know our customer satisfaction obviously is our number-one concern here.

CANDIOTTI: And Firestone's number-one concern: brand survival.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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