DECATUR, Ill. Blaming plummeting tire sales, Bridgestone/Firestone said Wednesday that it was closing the factory that made most of the 6.5 million Firestones recalled last summer.
Nearly 1,500 employees are expected to lose their jobs.
Company officials intend to close the plant by Dec. 31 and insisted that the shutdown was for economic reasons and that it had nothing to do with the quality of tires produced.
"I know it's going to appear that way to people, but I promise you that the fact that Decatur is the candidate we are looking at is that it's our oldest facility," Bridgestone/Firestone chief executive John Lampe said in a telephone interview from Tokyo.
The company said the shutdown would save more than $100 million a year.
"It is very costly to maintain. It has nothing to do with the recall, other than that the recall hurt our demand," Lampe said.
Sales of Firestone tires have plunged to about half of what they were before the recall.
At the red-brick factory that has been turning out tires since 1963, workers reacted with shock, sadness and bitter suspicion that they were being made scapegoats.
"I think when it's all said and done, they're going to say, 'Well, we closed the Firestone plant; we corrected the problem,' " said Hubie Bone, who has worked at the factory for 29 years.
At least 203 deaths and more than 700 injuries have been linked to Firestone tire failures in the United States. Many involved rollovers of the Ford Explorer.
Last August, Bridgestone/Firestone recalled millions of ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires most made in Decatur after discovering that the lines had high failure rates, such as suddenly losing their tread or failing in some other way.