Bridgestone Aims Probe At Design of 'Bad Tires'
                    September 13, 2000

                    By STEPHEN POWER and CLARE ANSBERRY
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. admitted it made "bad tires" that it has now
                    recalled and said it has narrowed the focus of its investigation of the tire
                    failures to potential design and manufacturing problems.

                                         Firestone in the past has indicated that
                                         problems with its recalled tires reflected external
                                         factors, such as driving conditions and care and
                                         maintenance. But a Firestone executive,
                                         testifying Tuesday at a Senate Commerce
                    Committee hearing into the recall, said the company is now looking at
                    its own processes and specifications to determine the root cause of the
                    tire failures.

                    "We believe we have narrowed the focus and
                    believe the solution may lie in two areas -- the
                    unique design specification of the 235/75/R15
                    [Wilderness AT tire] combined with variations in
                    the manufacturing process at the Decatur [Ill.]
                    plant," said John Lampe, Firestone's executive
                    vice president.

                    The company, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone
                    Corp., last month launched a recall of 6.5 million tires that have possibly
                    been linked to more than 1,400 accidents and 88 deaths in the U.S.
                    over the past decade. Most of the tires were mounted on Ford Motor
                    Co.'s Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

                    Firestone also announced it was tapping a relatively unknown university
                    professor to help investigate the causes of the separations. Sanjay
                    Govindjee, 36 years old, an associate professor in the Department of
                    Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California,
                    Berkeley, said Firestone officials called him last week to help look into
                    the causes of the tire failures. At this point, he says the scope of his
                    powers and autonomy are unclear, but that he expects to meet with
                    Firestone executives later this week or next week to discuss details.

                    'Full Responsibility'

                    Mr. Lampe didn't elaborate on the company's theories Tuesday, and
                    said Firestone takes "full responsibility" for problems that led to the tire
                    recall. But he added that the tires are "only part of the overall safety
                    problem" and questioned whether lower inflation levels recommended by
                    Ford might have made its popular sport-utility vehicles more likely to roll
                    over, resulting in deaths or serious injuries.

                    Meanwhile, Ford Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser, also testifying
                    yesterday, reiterated his defense of Ford's safety record and called the
                    problems that led to the recall "a Firestone tire issue." Mr. Nasser
                    accused Bridgestone/Firestone of withholding data that indicated a
                    "significant pattern" of tread separation as early as 1998.

                    The new head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Sue
                    Bailey, told lawmakers the agency thinks the accidents stem from "a tire
                    problem. But as is part of our investigation we will also explore the
                    possibility" that flaws with the vehicles contributed to accidents, she

                    Dr. Bailey and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said the agency
                    would redirect $1.8 million from other NHTSA programs to the Firestone
                    investigation, in hopes of finishing the probe within six months.

                    Lawmakers, without apportioning blame, criticized both companies for
                    not bringing the matter to U.S. customers sooner.

                    "What you and I ... have here is a situation where Ford says we ought
                    to recall the Firestone tires and Firestone says we ought to recall the
                    Ford cars or Explorers," said Sen. Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.). "It's like
                    tying two cats by the tails and throwing them over the clothesline and
                    letting them claw each other."

                    Poll of Customers

                    A poll commissioned by The Wall Street Journal suggests Firestone is
                    suffering more with customers than Ford as a result of the recall. The
                    poll, conducted Sept. 7-11 on the Internet by Harris Interactive, found
                    that while 25% of 814 people polled said it is extremely or very likely the
                    tire recall will affect their decision to buy a Ford product, 67% said the
                    recall would be very likely to affect their decision to buy a Firestone
                    product. Of those polled, 60% said the recall wasn't broad enough.

                    Neither company fared well on the question of whether they acted in a
                    timely and responsible way in recalling the tires. Only 14% agreed that
                    Firestone's actions were timely and responsible; 26% agreed that Ford
                    had acted responsibly.

                                                Phil Pacsi, Firestone's director of
                                                consumer tires brand marketing, says
                                                he is not surprised by the results, given
                                                the amount of exposure given to the
                                                tire problems. "Our goal, after we get
                                                this behind us, is to change consumer
                                                perception of what Firestone is," he

                                                There are several factors that Firestone
                                                is expected to consider regarding the
                                                manufacturing process at the Decatur
                                                plant. One is the age of the plant itself
                                                and the equipment being used there.
                                                The plant was built in 1942 by the U.S.
                                                government to house Decatur Signal
                                                Depot, which made and stored
                                                telecommunications for the Armed
                    Forces and closed in 1961. Firestone purchased the plant in 1962 and
                    began producing bias tires in 1963.

                    That particular tire and the process involved is much more forgiving
                    than the making of steel-belted tires such as the recalled Wilderness,
                    ATX, and ATX II tires. The reason is that steel belts are vulnerable to
                    moisture and humidity, which can cause corrosion and thus affect the
                    ability of the steel belts to adhere to the rubber. Air conditioning, which
                    can reduce the humidity, was overhauled about two years ago in
                    Decatur but is not installed throughout the plant.

                    Another issue will be the age and condition of the equipment at that
                    plant. Huge Banbury blenders mix raw materials under tremendous heat
                    and pressure. Calendar machines have huge rollers that press the parts
                    of the steel belt together. If the equipment is old it could have an
                    impact on how effective the bond is between the belts. Firestone says it
                    constantly updates its plants, but didn't have any specifics on
                    improvements at Decatur.

                    "An area we are looking at is the belts. The tread separation is
                    happening between the belts. That is an area we are looking into," said
                    Firestone's Mr. Pacsi.

                    Another area that is expected to be reviewed is the vulcanization
                    process, which is essentially applying heat and pressure to make all the
                    various pieces come together into one tire. Too little heat leads to tread
                    separation because the pieces don't adhere thoroughly. Too much heat
                    may lead to harder rubber with less elasticity.

                    Ford doesn't set design specifications, but gives Firestone certain
                    performance criteria that it must meet. Firestone then drafts the
                    particular specifications that are needed to meet those performance

                    The new Firestone investigator, Mr. Govindjee, a civil and mechanical
                    engineer, said that he expects to try to determine what aspects in the
                    design of the tire caused it to "deform" under a heavy weight load. Mr.
                    Govindjee said he has a particular expertise in the mechanics of rubber
                    and what happens to rubber when too much weight pressure is applied
                    and also how rubber reacts when it is pulled out of its molded shape.
                    Mr. Govindjee also expects to analyze Firestone data to examine the
                    causes of the tread peels and the limitations of the rubber and other

                    Mr. Govindjee said that this would be the first time that he has ever
                    handled an investigation and has never testified as a company-paid
                    independent expert. Mr. Govindjee said that he has worked as a
                    consultant and researcher for the Department of Energy, and Goodyear
                    Tire & Rubber Co. He said his work with Goodyear and other tire
                    companies involved proprietary product research and "things that they
                    were curious about." He would not elaborate.

                                      -- Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.