Tire executive quits amid firestorm over recall of Firestones

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The top executive of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. stepped down Tuesday after a 40-year career with the tire maker, now engulfed in a furor over its handling of the Firestone recall.

Chairman and CEO Masatoshi Ono, among the executives who publicly apologized for the recall in testimony before Congress, returned to his native Japan and will remain on the board of directors for the parent Bridgestone Corp.

Ono, 63, said this week that the move wasn’t because of the recall of 6.5 million tires, instead citing health problems and his age.

His American successor, executive vice president John Lampe, takes over the embattled company immediately. He acknowledged the intense scrutiny given to Firestone tires, which are under investigation for 101 deaths in the United States and more than 50 elsewhere.

"We know that many people, not just in the United States, but around the world are now questioning our integrity and the safety of our tires," Lampe said. "And we know that we can’t blame anyone else for people losing trust in Firestone products, not our customers, not our business partners, not the media or Congress. The responsibility is ours."

While Bridgestone named an American to lead its U.S. operations, Lampe said he was not chosen for his nationality.

"I would like to think they chose the best person for the job, whether it’s an American or Japanese shouldn’t be the overriding factor," said Lampe, 53, whose first job was changing tires at a Cincinnati Firestone store 27 years ago.

Lampe said the company hoped to complete the recall by next month and that 3.7 million tires had been replaced so far. He said more management changes will be announced soon.

Ono joined Tokyo-based Bridgestone in 1959 and headed the U.S. operations based in Nashville for seven years. Reports of his departure have circulated since the August recall of Firestone’s ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires, some of which were installed by the Ford Motor Co. as standard equipment on its Explorer and other vehicles.

Questions remain about the exact cause of the fatal crashes, which has led Bridgestone and Ford to criticize one another about the scope of their responsibility.

That didn’t change Tuesday, as Lampe said Ford should share some of the blame for the accidents. Ford spokesman Jason Vines said the Explorer has a good safety record, and one that would be even better had it not been sold with defective Firestone tires.

During a deposition Monday — part of several consumer lawsuits filed against Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford — Ono said he told Bridgestone president Yoichiro Kaizaki last month that he would like to retire "because I will be turning 64 next year and I didn’t feel I was in particularly good health either."

The consumers are seeking class-action status for dozens of lawsuits claiming Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford breached their warranties and provided products that were not fit for their intended use.

Lampe will give his deposition Thursday.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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