The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Ford plans to equip the bulk of its 2002 Explorer models (due out, by the usual car-company calculus, in 2001) with Michelins. The rest will be Goodyears. Or Continentals. Or even Firestones. It'll be up to you.
Ford is still negotiating and it's casting a wide net. Ford had already been using some Goodyear tires on the Explorer (and has been tapping them for replacement tires since the Firestone recall); indeed, the apparently trouble-free performance of Goodyear's tires has been the company's main defense against Bridgestone/Firestone's persistent contentions that Ford-ordered underinflation was at the base of tread-separation problems. It's also talking to Continental General Tire, a German firm. But according to the Journal, the France-based Michelin company will be a main supplier.
Ford's chief executive and current head of damage control, Jacques Nasser, is casting the shift in neutral terms pointing out that for the first time, the customer will be able to choose his tire when buying an Explorer. Asked if that meant the end of the besmirched Firestone brand on Ford vehicles, Nasser said only, "The customers will decide." (Firestone, which hasn't been fired by Ford, is nevertheless bracing for a bit of a slowdown.)
In other words, the ongoing Firestone mess may have made a new car's tires something they weren't before: a deal-breaker. Ford's next Explorer will be courting customers more educated about things like tread separation than they ever wanted to be. With road conditions like that, Ford isn't taking any chances.