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POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 2000 / Sunday
 
Bridgestone recalls 6.5-M defective tires
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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FILIPINO consumers are often amazed when American manufacturers recall large numbers of their products found to be defective or unsafe. Recalls are well-publicized and the expenses incurred by the manufacturers usually run into millions.

Recalls sometimes involved automobile models that had figured in numerous accidents traced to a common factory defect. Such recalls usually involve correcting the defect for free to the satisfaction of the customer.

But not in the Philippines. Over here, despite preponderant proof that there is a manufacturing defect or a safety deficiency observed in a certain series, the car distributor would never accede to a recall. And the government doesn’t lift a finger.

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EARLY this week, we got a Reuter report in the Internet about Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. in the US agreeing to recall millions of its tires used on some sport and utility vehicles involved in a number of tire-related accidents.

The story caught our attention because Firestone is the US division of Japan-based Bridgestone. The Japanese firm became the world’s biggest tire maker after it acquired Firestone.

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BRIDGESTONE tires, Postscript readers will remember, figured rather prominently in some consumer reports that we ran here about the tires’ sidewalls suddenly bursting for no apparent reason.

Local executives and engineers of Bridgestone explained to us then what could have happened. They said that while the tread of their tires is thick and tough, the sidewall is made comparatively thinner to give a soft, comfortable ride.

But many users had complained that the tires burst even while the car is cruising normally on a good road. It is widely assumed that the sidewall must have been previously injured and gave in under pressure of hard driving.

Whatever it was, there was no recall of the tires already in the local market.

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NOW comes this related news item (cut and edited a bit, by fdp) datelined Detroit, the US automaking capital:

“Embattled Japanese tire maker Bridgestone Corp. agreed to launch a ‘limited’ recall of millions of tires that US safety regulators had been investigating for defects.

“The company’s Firestone division is set to announce the recall of some of its ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, mostly in warmer southern states, on sport utility vehicles and pickups made by several automakers, the sources told Reuters.

“Bridgestone Firestone said it has made 48 million of the three brands of tires since their introduction in 1990. Sources said the recall covers less than half that number, will affect more than one automaker, and deal with pickups as well as SUVs.

“A meeting was held last Tuesday that included officials from Firestone, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford Motor Co., whose Explorer — the top-selling SUV in the US — has been involved in three-quarters of the incidents reported to NHTSA.”

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OFFICIALS of Philippine Allied Enterprises Corp., the local Bridgestone importer-distributor, confirmed the reported recall, which started Wednesday in the US.

But they said that practically all their tires being sold in the Philippine came from Japan and did not suffer the same defect. The only Bridgestone tire imported from the US is the Wilderness (265 70R17) for Ford Expeditions, according to them.

The defective tires, they added, came from a factory in Decatur, Illinois, while tires from other plants were found to be in good order.

But to play safe, the officials added, Bridgestone decided to recall all size 235 75R15 Firestone tires with Wilderness, ATX and ATX-II patterns numbering 6.5 million. These were the models that figured in the accidents that reportedly saw the treads peeling off.

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ON a related item, gasoline, Petron has come out with its “Blaze,” a high-octane unleaded fuel apparently launched in answer to Shell’s “Velocity.” Petron’s top gas is a little more expensive than Velocity, but price has nothing to do with power or performance.

In fact, nobody in town seems to know definitely which of these newfangled fuels is better, best, or bad for a car engine. There is no independent consumer group or government agency testing and reporting performance results.

Gasoline boys tending to the pumps are no help either when asked about the technical details of the fuel that they dispense. Consumers are left to their own instincts and gullibility.

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JOURNALIST Frankie Lagniton, who publishes Travel Post, has a suggestion:

“Gas stations must be required to post the octane rating of the various gas they’re selling. This could encourage generics, and real competition could set faster and bring down prices due to stiffer competition.

“The oil companies are taking advantage of our being brand-conscious. How do we know that the top brand of Petron (‘Blaze’) has 98 octane rating, as one gasoline boy has told me, or that “Velocity” is really rated 92?

“I remember there are three octane ratings in California — 82, 87, and 92. I used the 87, because my American mechanic then told me that buying the 92 is like throwing away money. It does not enhance anything!”

* * *

REALLY, how do we consumers know if claims of the oil companies are honest?

The Department of Energy is too busy defending the fuel price increases of the oil companies to bother with testing gasoline and reporting the results.

The private Consumer Price Watch, meanwhile, is busy galloping through the night a la Paul Revere warning us of coming price increases without bothering to advice us on what to do to fight back.

It could even happen, as some engineers have warned us, that the high-octane gas may destroy the engine of your one and only car.

* * *

SPEAKER Manuel Villar is right. Why should the people pool their meager incomes to fatten further the insatiable oil companies?

The oil firms invariably raise their prices whenever, in their estimate, their mega-profits are in danger of being eroded. As Villar asked, why should the burden be on the people to ensure the profitability of the oil companies? Actually it is the responsibility of the highly-paid oil executives.

To shore up profits, why don’t the oil companies improve efficiencies and cut costs — such as in the fabulous salaries, allowances and perks of their executives? Why should they always extract profitability from the consumers?

* * *

VILLAR, by the way, is fully supporting the passage of the bill creating a National Oil Exchange (OilEx) that would buy cheaper gasoline through bidding and negotiated purchases from any of some 40 refineries and traders throughout the world offering the lowest price.

The publishing of the national fuel requirement and the bidding that follows will be done electronically — with the whole world accessing the information via the Internet — and every bidder knows what competitors are offering.

The OilEx, which is non-profit, will then distribute the fuel down the usual network, adding only cost of operations to the acquisition cost to lower pump prices. The oil giants here will be forced to cut their costs and prices to remain in business.

The OilEx bill, filed by Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia, is co-sponsored by 184 of the 220 members of the House of Representatives. Passage by end of September is held likely by the House leadership.

* * *

AS for feasibility, what the OilEx intends to do is already being done successfully on another scale by a new outfit called Petroleum Electronic Pricing Exchange (Pepex), which was launched while the OilEx bill was being studied by the appropriate House committee.

You can visit the Pepex website at www.pepex.net. Its email address is info@Pepex.net.

To simplify and save on administrative costs, the OilEx might post its requirements and accept bids through the Pepex. We understand the Pepex charges a fee for the service, but we were told that it could be less than the cost of the OilEx’s doing the work itself.

* * *

WE received some mail supporting the idea broached here that the North Triangle park in Quezon City be returned to the people by the group intending to convert it into a shopping mall feeding off the North terminal of the Metro rail system on EDSA.

Nes Malonzo of Angeles City said that if the operators who sought to convert the park into a business complex cannot proceed with the project in six months, the government should rescind their contract and give the park back to the people.

Malonzo agreed that with work on the site having stopped for lack of funds, the place should be cleared, cleaned and planted to trees “instead of being allowed to go to seed and become the eyesore that it is now.”

* * *

FROM Tarlac, reader Max Mariano Jr. urged consumer and media groups to monitor the “other non-transport businesses” of the MRT (Metrorail) operators, such as the stalls, shops and shuttle buses built into the MRT’s operations.

He pointed to the government’s admission that it was paying for the MRT’s losses under a sure-profit clause in its contract. “While the government (meaning us taxpayers) is subsidizing losses,” Mariano said, “how do we know if the MRT is padding its losses by hiding its other incomes from these side-businesses?”

Jun Balgos using an aol (AmericaOnLine) address remarked: “It is cruel to herd captive consumers and squeeze blood from them to subsidize the profitability of the oil companies. Are the MRT owners another of those privileged few feeding off our low-income masa?”

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