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Dealers respond to Ford/Firestone breakup

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When asked, "How will the termination of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s relationship with Ford Motor Co. -- and the ensuing bad publicity -- affect your business?" independent tire dealers proved to be very opinionated.

"It will affect people like elections do," says John Allen of Hughes Brothers Inc. in Wilmington, N.C. "It's gotten to the point that people believe almost anything they see on TV or read.

"I think Ford is trying to hide a lot of problems with the Explorer. If there's nothing wrong with the vehicle, why are they changing its suspension system now? It will be ugly for a while."

Skipper Lancaster of Dixie Tire & Automotive Inc. in Spartanburg, S.C., says he already has received several calls about Firestone tires.

"People want to take Firestone tires off their vehicles. Hopefully, BFS saying to Ford 'No more' will help convince the public, but I don't know. I thought all of this was behind us. We'll have to see how it shakes out."

"I don't think it will have any impact on our business," says D.J. Baker of Palmdale Firestone in Palmdale, Calif. "We've been here 13 years and have customers who've been coming in a long time.

"The quality of the product will save us, too. It's a matter of integrity. If you have a problem with a tire or a vehicle, you make it right. If Ford has a problem with their Explorers, they should do that."

A little more than a day after Bridgestone/Firestone's bombshell announcement, John Ziegler Jr. of Ziegler Tire & Oil in Canton, Ohio, admitted he was caught by surprise. Seven of Ziegler Tire's 25 outlets are retail.

A Firestone dealer since 1919, Ziegler says "it would be like me calling my biggest account and telling them I will no longer sell them tires. So many things are running through my mind on the heels of this 'huge stakes' game.

"Honestly, I don't yet know what will happen," he says. "I have heard unconfirmed reports that BFS may have received commitments from GM, Toyota and Chrysler, but that remains a rumor. I do believe that BFS will need independent tire dealers to help them, now more than ever."

In Western New York state, Armin Garcia, assistant store manager at a Kost Tire outlet in Binghamton, says he expects little or no change in the way he's doing business as a result of the Firestone announcement. Kost does business out of 45 stores in New York and Pennsylvania.

"We sell a lot of Seiberling brand tires as well as Firestone passenger tires," he says. "Our Firestone light truck tire business has been down, but we are filling in with other lines where needed.

"Yes, there is an initial shock when such an announcement is made, but our job is to make rational decisions based on fact and move ahead."

At a grass-roots meeting of 400 Firestone dealers in Ontario, Calif., on Tuesday, John Gamauf, vice president of consumer tire sales for the Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Co., gauged their mood in the wake of the company's split with Ford. He described it as positive.

He said he received 150 e-mails closely following the announcement that Bridgestone/Firestone would end its 100-year relationship with Ford. "Not one said it was a bad decision."

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