NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Firestone acted to improve its Wilderness AT tires even before last week's announced recall of 6.5 million tires for sport/utility vehicles, the company's top executive said in an interview published Friday.|
Masatoshi Ono, chief executive of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., told the Wall Street Journal that the company realized there were problems with the treads on the Wilderness AT model under "severe" conditions, and had acted to improve the tire's performance.
The severe conditions cited by Ono included high-speed driving with underinflated tires in sweltering heat.
Ono also told the Journal that Firestone and Ford Motor Co. (F: Research, Estimates) had disagreed over proper tire inflation levels. Ford has recommended 26 pounds per square inch, while Bridgestone/Firestone recommends 30. Ono said he believes the tires are safe if tire pressure is checked at least once a month.
Firestone recalled 6.5 million Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires -- most of them used on S/UVs made by Ford -- after it was determined that they were prone to tread separation at high speeds. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it's investigating 750 accidents, involving 62 deaths, allegedly related to the tires.
Separately, the Journal quotes a Toyota Motor Corp. executive as saying the carmaker wants tire makers to produce low-cost, lightweight tires modeled after a designed developed by a small Japanese tire maker.
Tadaaki Jagawa, a Toyota executive vice president, told the Journal that his company is lobbying companies including Bridgestone/Firestone to adopt the production method developed by Hashima, Japan-based Fuji Seiko KK.
Jagawa said the Fuji process shrinks the size of a tire shop floor to as little as 1/30th of a typical facility by shortening the assembly line and using more compact equipment. "Fuji Seiko is whipping up a revolution, and their approach will eliminate a whole lot of waste in how companies make tires," the Journal quoted Jagawa as saying.
Jagawa told the paper that Bridgestone and France's Groupe Michelin have shown little interest in the idea, but that smaller tire makers Yokohama Rubber Co. and Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. "see a possible opportunity to tip the balance of power in the tire industry."