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Ford, Firestone Officials Took Narrow View When Recalling Tires, Ignoring Key Data While Admitting Tires Lacked Strength

Jan. 4, 2001

Ford, Firestone Officials Took Narrow View When Recalling Tires, Ignoring Key Data While Admitting Tires Lacked Strength

Unsafe Firestone Tires Are Still on the Road, Should Be Recalled Immediately

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ford and Firestone company officials ignored crucial information when deciding which Firestone tires to recall last year, and as a result, potentially dangerous tires are still on the road and should be recalled immediately, according to a report released today by Public Citizen and Safetyforum.com.

Now a top Ford official has admitted in a deposition that the Wilderness AT tires are not “robust,” meaning that they are not as strong and durable as they should be, and that they are susceptible to failure with variations in inflation pressure, operating conditions, load and speed.

Last year’s recall focused on ATX and ATX II tires and only some Wilderness AT tires — specifically those 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made in Decatur, Ill. But Wilderness AT tires made elsewhere for the Ford Explorer have the same flawed design that could cause the tread to separate, the report concludes.

In deciding which tires to recall, Ford analyzed only one narrow database and ignored information about tire failures that spawned major litigation claims, consumer complaints and adjustment records that show replacement of equipment under warranty, the report says.

“Ford and Firestone officials are focused on protecting their bottom line instead of the people whose lives are literally riding on these tires,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “For the sake of highway travelers everywhere, all Firestone Wilderness tires that were made for the Ford Explorer should be recalled from the market, not just those made in Decatur. These tires on Ford Explorers cause catastrophic crashes resulting in horrible injuries and death.”

The recall should be expanded to include all Wilderness AT P235/75R15 and P255/70R16, the two groups concluded. If the companies refuse to do it, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should require it, they said.

“Company officials have no foundation in fact to be claiming that last year s recall has solved the problem and that everything is fine now,” said Ralph Hoar, director of Safetyforum.com. “It’s not. There are seriously deficient tires still on the road.”

As of December 2000, NHTSA’s database had consumer reports of 4,308 Firestone tire tread separations or other tire failures. Of the incidents where enough information was available to make a distinction, 1,060 — or 97 percent of — incidents of failure involved non-recalled Wilderness tires, and 34 incidents involved recalled tires. “Predictably, that number will increase as Wilderness tires accumulate the exposure that produced the epidemic of ATX and ATX II failures, injuries and deaths,” Hoar said.

In a Dec. 21 deposition, Tom Baughman, engineering director for Ford’s truck operations, stated that the 15-inch Wilderness AT tires “are not robust against variations and inflation pressure and in operating condition, load and speed.”

According to NHTSA, tread separations involving Firestone tires have resulted in 148 deaths and more than 500 injuries. In December, Firestone issued a report citing a variety of reasons for the tread separations, including the design of the Explorer, Ford’s recommendation for a relatively low inflation pressure of 26 pounds per square inch, manufacturing problems in Decatur, the tire’s design and customer misuse of the tires.

Ford, meanwhile, concluded that the tire’s design created stresses in certain areas, and that manufacturing processes in Decatur compounded the problem, allowing cracks to form between the steel belts.

Today’s report also notes that the companies narrowed the scope of the recall even before determining the cause for the tread separations.

“It seems odd that Ford and Firestone could be so sure that the problem with Wilderness AT tires was limited to those made in Decatur, when company officials still weren t sure what was causing the problem,” Claybrook said.

Although Ford has conceded that non-recalled Wilderness AT tires are susceptible to failure in hot climates, the company has defended the decision to keep the tires on the market.

The report notes that the Wilderness AT tire recall in the U.S. was limited to 15-inch tires, even though NHTSA data show significant failures in 16-inch Wilderness tires, and even though the company recalled 16-inch Wilderness tires in other countries, such as Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.