By Richard Truett, Automotive News
Chicago, Illinois-The icy relationship between Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has warmed in the last three years. But the tyre maker believes that Ford is still unlikely to become a customer in its US market again in the near future.
â€œIt's not a priority,â€ said Mark Emkes, who takes over as CEO at Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. when John Lampe retires 31 March. But he added: â€œWe're happy that we've opened the lines of communication.â€
Lampe took over the tyre maker's top job in North America in October 2000 during the Firestone Wilderness/ATX tyre recalls. In 2001 he ordered the company to stop supplying tyres to Ford, breaking a century-old relationship between the companies.
Lampe would not speculate on a time frame but said he believes Firestone will return to its role as one of Ford's major tyre suppliers.
â€œThat's been expressed not only on the Bridgestone/Firestone side,â€ he said, â€œbut on the Ford side as well that we need to look at re-establishing that relationship.â€
A Ford spokesman said it is possible that the two companies could do business again for the US market, but did not elaborate.
Emkes and Lampe, speaking at the Chicago Auto Show, said the company is making all the tyres it can without selling any to Ford for the US market.
â€œWe are at full capacity as far as production is concerned,â€ Emkes said. â€œIf anything were to happen, we'd have to add capacity.â€
In December 2001, Bridgestone/Firestone closed the Illinois plant that made most of the tires involved in the Explorer rollover accidents. Ford and Firestone replaced nearly 20 million tires. That and the ongoing settling of lawsuits from consumers who lost family members or were injured in accidents cost both companies billions.
Some business analysts and media pundits believed the Firestone brand would not survive the crisis, but Lampe said the company is out of trouble.
Sales of Firestone brand tyres improved 4 percent in 2003 despite little advertising. Firestone officials would not say how many tyres the company sold last year.