Firestone in a Skid

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All drivers have to trust their tires. Air bags and seat belts notwithstanding, we need to feel that the rubber tubes on which we ride are safe and reliable. And that need speaks to the depth of the crisis in consumer confidence that may be confronting Bridgestone-Firestone as it announces a massive tire recall Wednesday.

The Japanese-owned corporation will recall an estimated 6.5 million tires currently in use on some of America's most popular SUVs, in light of reports that some of the tires in question have caused accidents after "shredding." The recall is expected to be initially confined to seven warm-weather states of the U.S. and to cover the ATX, ATXII and Wilderness models that have been standard issue on some of the SUVs manufactured by Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru.

The National Highway Traffic Administration is currently investigating whether Firestone failure occurred in some 46 auto-accident fatalities around the country, and a family injured when a tire blew apart Monday has filed suit against the manufacturer. Under those circumstances, a product recall that could cost the company some $500 million may be the only way to rescue the brand.

The problem confronting Firestone, though, is twofold, because a substantial share of its sales are directly to auto manufacturers. So the company has to not only reassure the consumer of the safety of its products, but also convince some of America's leading auto manufacturers that consumer fears can be sufficiently allayed to allow Firestone to remain the manufacturers' first choice. Unless they can do that, this flat may take some time to fix.