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Ford Ultimately Responsible for Ford-Firestone Tragedy; Steps Must Be Taken Now to Ensure No More People Die Unnecessarily

April 25, 2001

Ford Ultimately Responsible for Ford-Firestone Tragedy; Steps Must Be Taken Now to Ensure No More People Die Unnecessarily

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President

We are here today to look both forward and backward. We look forward to explore how we can prevent the Ford-Firestone tragedy from happening again. And we turn backward to tell you what Ford and Firestone will never admit about how this happened.

At its core, the Ford-Firestone tragedy was largely the responsibility of Ford Motor Company.

First, Ford designed a vehicle that was prone to rolling over the Bronco II and the company refused to fix it. Then, Ford built the Explorer using a virtually identical design theme.

Ford also drew up the specifications for the now infamous Firestone tires with treads that unexpectedly separate while unwitting victims drive down the road. It was Ford that decided to put a car tire on a pickup truck chassis, which strained the tire. And it was Ford that recommended a low inflation pressure and then demanded the weight of the tire be reduced to improve fuel economy measures that contributed to the tire s propensity to shred.

But Ford is not the only entity culpable for the deaths and injuries that have occurred with this tire and vehicle. Firestone is responsible as well. It was Firestone that agreed to manufacture the tire despite the fact that the tire was inadequate for the vehicle. And between lawsuits and warranty data, Firestone had plenty of notice that the tire had grave deficiencies, but it never told the public or initiated a recall.

While both companies have done “root cause” analyses, they haven t told the whole story, which is what we will do today. Attorney Tab Turner will present the nuts and bolts of our report, which shows that people are still at risk because the non-recalled tires and the new replacement tires are just as dangerous as the recalled tires. We will show you that the tires fail because they are poorly designed and, in some cases, the design problems are exacerbated by poor quality control in manufacturing. And Ralph Hoar will discuss the urgency of the need for the recall.

Before we go into the details, let s look forward and talk about how we can avoid such tragedies in future. Today, we are calling for several measures to be taken immediately.

First, we call for the prompt recall of all the tires still on the road that the extensive research documented in our report, The Real Root Cause of the Ford-Firestone Tragedy: Why the Public Is Still at Risk, has shown are defective. That includes all non-recalled 15-inch and 16-inch Wilderness AT tires made for the Ford Explorer.

We also call on Ford to launch an owner notification program and a public information campaign to inform Explorer owners of the dangerous propensity for the vehicles to roll over, as well as the difficulty in controlling an Explorer when a tire tread separates.

The federal government has a role in this too. We call on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to update its 30-year-old tire safety standard by the June 2002 deadline required in the recently passed TREAD Act. We also call on the agency to update its 30-year-old roof crush standard, basing the standard on real world tests, rather than the mathematical calculations. The agency should issue a rollover standard based on real world tests in addition to the information from mathematical calculations it recently released. And the agency needs to require improved window glazing and other protection to ensure that people aren t ejected during rollover.

Finally, we call on all auto manufacturers to make sport utility vehicles safer and more socially responsible. They should adopt efficiency technologies and reduce the vehicles size to improve their fuel economy. They should make SUVs lower and wider to prevent rollovers. And manufacturers should make design changes to reduce the likelihood that the high-framed SUVs will aggressively override lower-framed cars in crashes.

These are basic steps, but they are essential. These companies have too much blood on their hands we hope they will do what is necessary to ensure no more is needlessly spilled.

Report: The Real Root Cause of the Ford-Firestone Tragedy
(note: this is a large PDF file and will require a high-speed internet connection to download.? A text-only version will be available soon)

Dangerous Tires Prone to Shred are Still on Road, Investigation Shows