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The firestone brand is in danger. To observe that neither the Ford nor the Firestone brand stands to "win" in this blowup between one-time partners is an understatement. Yet Ford Motor Co. has more strengths-both corporate and in the marketplace. Bridgestone/Firestone needs to start planning a future without the Firestone brand leading the way.

For Bridgestone/Firestone, the U.S. arm of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., Ford's attack on the reliability of its tires-capped by its recall of 13 million Firestones now on Ford Explorers-is a huge obstacle to overcome. The brand's score on the "Reputation Index" calculated by consultancy Corpo-rate Branding, has plunged. Tire buyers can only be confused and wary.

The hard decision will come six months from now, when Bridge-stone/Firestone must assess whether short-term damage can be recouped in a reasonable period. If not, Japan's Bridgestone tire, a respected quality brand elsewhere in the world, is waiting to lead Bridgestone/Fire-stone's future in the U.S.

This entire controversy should prompt some larger questions. What's become of brand stewardship in this mess? It's plainly been tossed into the back seat and other corporate interests given priority-no matter what happens to carefully nurtured brand equity. Product safety concerns are legitimate. Owners of Ford Explorers and Firestone tires want answers-and they want problems fixed. But our liability system instead pushes Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone into a corrosive blame game that only delays getting to the bottom of the problem.

If "firestoned" ever joins the vernacular of marketing, it should be an epithet for business decisions that sacrifice brands.

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