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News > Companies
Ford to monitor Firestone
August 14, 2000: 7:16 p.m. ET

Company to continue using Firestone; says 800,000 vehicles left using tires
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Ford Motor Co. will continue using Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires, but the company will increase scrutiny of quality standards at the tire manufacturer in the light of problems with tires on its best-selling Ford Explorer sport/utility vehicle.

Ford officials said Monday that they are convinced a recall broader than the current 6.5 million Firestone tires on its vehicles is not necessary, given the data on tread separation complaints. Ford also reiterated its support of Firestone in a joint Firestone/Ford conference call open to the media.

"Firestone has been a supplier to Ford since 1906," said Ken Zino, a Ford Motor spokesman. "We see no way we would drop Firestone as a supplier."

On Wednesday, Firestone will be placing an advertisement in newspapers giving further information on how consumers can obtain reimbursements and more information on the tire recall. Ford estimates that there were 14.4 million tires involved in the recall and that 3.8 million are still being used. Ford believes that there are fewer than 800,000 vehicles left on the road using the tires, but said it difficult to gauge how many tires are left.

graphicThe recall has also produced a spike in public opinion and a slowdown in sales.

"We took these actions so that 'slowdown' doesn't turn into 'long-term,'" said Tom Baughman, director of engineering for Ford's truck division. "There is no evidence that this will affect the popularity of these types of vehicles."

In an interview on CNN Monday, Baughman said that the problems with the tires apparently can be traced to one Firestone plant in Decatur, Ill. Firestone Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires used on the Ford SU/Vs came from the plant.

"The data certainly suggests there were problems at that plant," he said. He said the nation's No. 2 automaker had not seen the database that identified that plant as the culprit until a week ago Friday.

Ford and Firestone do not know what caused the tire problems at the Decatur plant but Ford has organized a team to fly to the Decatur to assist Firestone workers. Firestone maintains that its non-Decatur plants are producing tires that are virtually risk-free.

"Every tire is inspected by person and machine before it goes out the door," said Chris Karbowiak, Firestone's vice president of public affairs.

Ford initially thought it would take one year to replace all the tires but now thinks it will go much more quickly.

"We are shooting to have the entire program completed before the beginning of next summer," Baughman said on the conference call.

Firestone and Ford officials last week announced the recall on the tires used on trucks and sport/utility vehicles. Most of the tires involved in the recall are used on Ford Explorer and its Mercury Mountaineer cousin, with most of the rest on other Ford models as well as some Mazda vehicles. The tires have been linked to tread separation problems that may have been responsible for 46 deaths in hundreds of accidents over the past several years.

But safety experts over the weekend criticized both Ford and Firestone as being aware of the problems for a number of years. Some safety advocates Sunday called for a broader recall of all Wilderness tires, not just the ones made at the Decatur plant.

"Ford and Firestone have tried to minimize and cover up these enormous problems for years and so far, until recently, they were successful," Ralph Hoar of Safetyforum.com told CNN.




Related Story: Ford customers give Firestone tires the cold shoulder.

Related Story: Florida drivers launch class action lawsuit against Firestone.




The critics of the companies pointed to a broader recall of Firestone tires used on Ford S/UVs overseas as proof the recall needs to be expanded.

"Ford's overseas recalls show that the company replaced both 15-inch and 16-inch tires in foreign markets," said Strategic Safety, a firm that describes itself as specializing in research and investigation of motor vehicle safety. "Ford and Firestone continue to refuse to recall 16-inch tires in the U.S., claiming differences in environmental conditions and usage patterns, the same argument that the companies used when confronted with the foreign recalls. Ford and Firestone have failed to explain why environmental conditions and usage patterns affect one size tire and not the other."

The company released data that shows the now-discontinued Firestone ATX and ATX II along with the Wilderness tires from the Decatur plant were responsible for about 80 percent of 2,500 failure complaints made to Firestone between 1991 and 2000. The company said most of the accidents involving those tires were reported this year, even though the tires that developed the problems were mostly made in 1997 or earlier.

Based on new data collected by Firestone, the ATX and ATX II tires "started as bad actors and finished worse," according to Ford spokesman Jason Vines.

Another Ford spokeswoman reiterated Monday that the company is confident the 16-inch Wilderness tire is not a problem.

"The data demonstrates very clearly, dramatically, that the 15-inch tire is the problem," said Anne Doyle. "We see the 16-inch tire as meeting world class quality standards."

But Baughman admitted that the Decatur plant had also met Ford's internal "Q1" supplier quality standards, as well as internationally certified ISO 9000 standards while it produced the recalled tires.

He said Ford officials are now at the Decatur plant, along with officials from Firestone's home office and the home office of Firestone's Japanese owner, Bridgestone. He said Ford would continue to monitor all Firestone plants more closely at least on a short-term basis until the company is confident it is again meeting standards.

Firestone officials tried to defend the company's attention to quality, especially against a report in Sunday's Washington Post that quoted six former employees as saying there were major quality-control problems at the Decatur plant.

The article said the six have testified, or will testify, in accident lawsuits that workers at the plant in the mid-1990s regularly covered up flaws on tires by puncturing bubbles.

They also said inspections of finished tires were rare, and the steel-belt cords used in the tires were exposed to high humidity levels in the plant. Moisture on the steel belts could cause corrosion and problems with the belt's adhesion to the rubber of the tire.

graphicFirestone Vice President Christine Karbowiak dismissed suggestions Sunday that the problems relate to the use of replacement workers during a strike in 1994 and 1995 in Firestone's Decatur plant. The data show the highest rate of problems in that period, aside from a period in 1996 when the striking workers were being reintegrated into the work force.

Ford placed full-page ads in the Sunday editions of The New York Times and The Washington Post, explaining to consumers how to check their tires to see if they are subject to the recall.

Reacting to growing consumer complaints, Ford has also authorized dealers lacking Firestone tires to replace the recalled tires with the brands of competitors rather than wait for the tire maker to ramp up production of replacements. Due to supply shortages, consumers could be forced to wait up to a year for Firestone tires.




Click here for tips on handling the Firestone tire recall





Two Ford Explorers with Firestone tires suffered the latest blowouts Sunday morning on highways in Florida, bringing more bad news to the two beleaguered companies. But no injuries were reported, a Florida Highway Patrol officer said.

In one of the incidents, the tread on the right rear tire of a 1992 Ford Explorer came off, causing the driver to lose control and drive into a ditch. The vehicle overturned, but the driver was unharmed.

Ford (F: Research, Estimates) slipped 1/8 to close at 29 Monday. Shares of Bridgestone closed at 1875 yen, down 25 yen, in trading in Japan Monday. Back to top

  RELATED STORIES

Ford dealers swapping non-recalled Firestone tires off new cars - Aug. 14, 2000

Firestone recalls 6.5 million S/UV tires - Aug. 9, 2000

A long wait for new tires - Aug. 11, 2000

  RELATED SITES

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.