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CARACAS (May 22, 2001) -- In an attempt to salvage its badly tarnished image in Venezuela, one of the country's hardest hit by a series of fatal accidents last year involving Ford Explorers, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has unveiled a program designed to train young people to drive safely.

Called 'Leaving Tracks', the $84,000 initiative in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and at least five state governors' offices, will include the creation of 30 driving workshops a year at the country's public schools.

Last year Ford Motors of Venezuela admitted to 27 fatal accidents involving Explorers with Firestone tires, while National Assembly Deputy Ibra1n Vel zquez claimed that over 50 Venezuelans had died as a result of such accidents.

Firestone Marketing and Sales Director Oscar Rodriguez says that despite the Explorer situation, "we are happy with our sales results. In the last seven months, we have broken historical records in tire replacements. Even in the month of October 2000 (when the scandal was at its height), we were able to place 160,551 tires. In the replacement segment the brand maintains a 50 percent share of market. Furthermore, we are suppliers of practically all General Motors and Toyota models."

At present Firestone has a distribution network of over 300 points of sale across the country. "This year we hope to inaugurate another 25 stores," says Mr. Rodriguez, adding that the company plans to produce over 2 million tires in 2001, and will spend approximately $3 million on advertising. BBDO is in charge of brand advertising, while Laurens & Rivera handles corporate image.

Bridgestone/Firestone announced on May 21 that it had ended its 100-year relationship with Ford Motor Co. following an almost year-long controversy over the safety of Firestone tires. -- Conrad Dahlson

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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