Personal Finance
Firestone says probe done
December 19, 2000: 3:23 p.m. ET

Says recalled tires tied to deaths failed due to one plant's process, type of use
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said Tuesday that its internal investigation found several causes for the failure of tires linked to at least 148 U.S. deaths, from the manufacturing process at one plant to the tire pressure of the vehicles equipped with the tires.

The failure forced the recall of 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires most commonly found on the Ford Explorer, the best selling sport/utility vehicle, and the model linked with most of the deaths. While Ford Motor Co. (F: Research, Estimates) maintains that the problem was a tire and not a vehicle design problem, Firestone said its "root cause" investigation found loading of the vehicle and the lower tire pressure initially recommended by Ford also contributed to tread separations and accidents.

graphic"Low inflation pressure in the recalled ATX, ATXII and Wilderness AT tires increased the running temperature of tires and would contribute to a decreased belt adhesion level," said Bridgestone/Firestone's statement.

In a statement, Ford said its data agreed with Firestone's, but suggested that tire pressure was but one ingredient in the dangerous cocktail that caused the accidents, and that independent studies show that its Ford Explorer is among the safest vehicles in its class.

"We believe it is a combination of manufacturing factors and the reaction of the tire design to field operating conditions, including hot weather and very low tire pressure, that have caused the increased failure rate of these tires," the company said on Tuesday afternoon.

Moreover, Ford suggested that on a whole, its vehicle had very little to do with the cause of the incidents.

"Our experience with more than 2.9 million competitive make tires that performed almost flawlessly in the field leads us to conclude that the vehicle is not a significant contributor to tread separation," it added.

Problem lies in Decatur manufacturing plant

Firestone officials also said part of the problem was due to manufacturing procedures unique to its Decatur, Ill., plant. "Tires of the same size produced at Decatur exhibited different belt adhesion characteristics, including lower initial adhesion, than those same size and line tires produced at other Bridgestone/Firestone plants," the company said in a statement.

The company admitted the tread design of the ATX and ATX II contributed to the tread separation problems, but said that problem was corrected by the design of the Wilderness model tire that replaced those tires several years ago.

The tire maker said company investigators together with an outside expert hired by Bridgestone/Firestone examined 2,500 recalled tires, cutting apart more than 850 tires to analyze tire 40 different components and characteristics.

"These factors the team has identified, when working in concert, are the

major causes for why some (recalled tires) experienced an increased rate of tread separation," said John Lampe, the company's chief executive.

The company said its investigation has convinced the company the recall announced in August was adequate to protect customers. Some safety advocates have called for a broader recall that included other models and sizes, as well as some Wilderness tires that were made at other plants and not included in the recall.

"Firestone believes that once the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford review the materials they will agree with the company's findings," said the company's statement.

The company also said it is changing how it will collect, analyze and manage the data it receives regarding tire claims and adjustments. This will allow the company to respond as soon as it can if any problems are found.

The vice president of the United Steelworkers local 713 at the Decatur plant said it isn't fair to single out one factory.

"I feel like they're questioning our workmanship," Harland Smith told Associated Press. "We have tires out there with 80,000 miles on them. We have workers at our plant that drive on them same tires and never took them in for the recall."

Lampe said the recall of tires is essentially complete, and that the waiting lists that customers had to be on to get the replacement tires have been exhausted.

Ford (F: Research, Estimates) stock rose 22 cents to $22.72 in afternoon trading. Shares of Bridgestone Corp., the Japanese parent of Bridgestone/Firestone, gained ¥6 to ¥1,123 in Tokyo trading Tuesday.

-- from staff and wire reports graphic


Special report: Firestone Ford Recall



Ford Motor Co.

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