Answers Are Still Elusive in Tire Crisis Despite a Flood of Information and Data
                    September 15, 2000

                    STEPHEN POWER
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    A FLOOD OF INFORMATION has been released since the Aug. 9 recall
                    of 6.5 million Firestone tires linked to accidents, most of them involving
                    Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

                                         Congressional investigators, plaintiffs attorneys,
                                         tire experts and the companies involved have
                                         weighed in. Ford and Firestone, a unit of Japan's
                                         Bridgestone Corp., each have teams working
                                         around the clock to pinpoint the cause.

                    But still, there are few clear answers as to why some Firestone tires are
                    coming apart on the road, causing deadly blow-outs and rollovers. Here
                    is a recap of what is known at this point, and what remains to be

                    Why are the treads peeling off these tires?

                    The problem is that the two steel belts inside the tires are separating.
                    The belts are glued together, one on top of the other. When they come
                    apart the upper steel belt can suddenly pop loose, taking the entire
                    tread with it. The problem appears to indicate that the glue is not
                    strong enough. Experts think that either the quality of the raw
                    materials used to make the glue, which is a rubber compound, isn't high
                    enough or the raw materials aren't sufficiently mixed.

                    The belts could also pop apart if corrosion is present on the steel wires
                    that are woven together to form the belt. Corrosion comes from
                    moisture, which could come from humidity in the tire factory.

                    The belts could also pop apart if
                    the tire isn't properly cured. The
                    curing, or vulcanization, process
                    involves pressing the pieces of the
                    raw tire together inside a heated
                    mold. If the heat isn't sufficiently
                    high the pieces may not fuse. If
                    the heat is too great the pieces
                    could be overcooked and turn

                    Why are these particular tires
                    having problems?

                    To the average consumer tires may look alike. Essentially, all have the
                    same ingredients and are made by similar machines. Yet each type of
                    tire has a slightly different proportion of ingredients. For example, one
                    tire might have more silica, which makes it roll better and gives better

                    Moreover, the tires at issue may not have been built to meet the
                    demands of today's SUV and light truck drivers. People are driving
                    faster and their vehicles often are packed with bikes, kids and gear. High
                    speed and weight make tires run hotter, which can melt bonds within
                    the tires, especially if the bonds aren't strong enough to begin with.
                    Tire treads, particularly those used on SUVs, are more rugged and
                    don't grow bald as fast as they did years ago. Drivers may have no idea
                    the insides are falling apart.

                    The issues of speed and heat have been raised in South America, where
                    Explorers equipped with 15-inch Firestone tires are supposed to be able
                    to handle speeds of up to 106 miles per hour, according to Ford
                    documents. But the tire design used on those Explorers was only
                    deemed safe when drivers were traveling at 100 mph for a short time at
                    the inflation -- 28 pounds per square inch -- that Ford recommended,
                    according to the documents. In some countries people drive at those
                    speeds for a long period of time.

                    Who is at fault in this mess?

                    Ford contends the problem lies entirely with Bridgestone/Firestone's
                    tires. The auto maker bases this conclusion on two bodies of evidence.
                    One is Ford's own analysis of Bridgestone/Firestone warranty claims
                    covering all models of tires on all vehicles over 10 years. That indicates
                    that the tread separation complaints involve only 15-inch Firestone ATX
                    and ATX II tires and Wilderness AT tires produced at Firestone's
                    Decatur, Ill., plant. The other evidence is the record of 500,000
                    Explorers made in the mid-1990s that were equipped with 2.3 million
                    tires produced to the same specifications by Goodyear Tire & Rubber
                    Co. Ford and Goodyear say there have been no reports of accidents or
                    fatalities linked to similar failures of those tires. Ford has a team of
                    experts searching for an engineering explanation for why the Firestone
                    tires failed, and it has hired independent tire laboratories to assist them.
                    Still, Ford acknowledges it failed to detect a problem soon enough.

                    For the first time, Firestone admitted this week that it made bad tires
                    and that it had manufacturing problems at its plant in Decatur. But it
                    also believes the design of the Explorer and Ford's specifications for the
                    tires share responsibility. It notes that other vehicles with these tires
                    haven't experienced the same fatal rollover rate as Explorers. In
                    addition, Firestone says that tire failures are involved in fewer than 10%
                    of Explorer rollovers, leading the tire maker to conclude the problem is
                    linked to the vehicle and not just the tire. Moreover, it notes that an
                    analysis of 32 cases of possible tread separation involving Explorers and
                    the similar Mercury Mountainer in the U.S. showed that 10 involved
                    Goodyear tires.

                    Why is tire pressure an issue?

                    Underinflated tires can get hot faster. Without enough air to hold the
                    tires shape, the tire walls can flex more than they are made to. Flexing
                    creates heat, which can make the tire separate. It is worse in hot
                    climates. About 80% of the Firestone tread separations took place in
                    four hot-climate states.

                    Firestone said the tires should be
                    inflated to a pressure of 30 pounds
                    per square inch, but it never made an
                    issue of Ford recommending the tires
                    be inflated to 26 pounds -- until the
                    recall. Now Firestone is saying the
                    26-pound level is one of the reasons
                    the tires are coming apart.

                    Ford doesn't think tire pressure is as
                    much an issue as everyone is making
                    it out to be and that there isn't much
                    difference between 26 and 30
                    pounds. Citing Goodyear as an
                    authority, Ford further maintains that
                    low pressure shouldn't start to
                    generate enough heat to cause tread
                    separation until the pressure falls to
                    the low teens. And Ford points to the
                    Goodyear tires it put on Explorers in
                    the mid-1990s, for which it
                    recommended a pressure of 26
                    pounds. Goodyear says it had four
                    claims for tread separations on tires it
                    supplied to Explorers, but none of
                    those resulted in accidents or injuries.
                    Still, Ford now says tires should be
                    inflated to 26 to 30 pounds.

                    Are all steel-belted tires prone to
                    these problems?

                    To some degree. Steel-belted tires were introduced in the U.S. in the
                    late 1960s. They were a huge breakthrough because they are stronger,
                    last longer and give better gas mileage. But getting steel to stick to
                    rubber is like mixing oil and water. For decades, the world's tire makers
                    have been coming up with new patents that change the way the belts
                    are constructed, and the way they are stuck together. Firestone isn't
                    the only one with tread separation complaints. Ford is also investigating
                    reports of tread separations in Saudi Arabia on tires made by
                    Germany's Continental AG. And Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. faces dozens
                    of lawsuits involving claims of tread separations.

                    Is there a problem with the Explorer?

                    Although a number of theories have been floated, no data have
                    emerged to signal a safety defect in the vehicle itself. Ford points out
                    that the vehicle's suspension is conventional for SUVs and other light
                    trucks. Ford contends that the performance specifications set for the
                    tires are appropriate for the vehicle's weight and the likely load it carries.

                    It is true that complaints filed with NHTSA seem to indicate a
                    disproportionate number of tread separations and rollover accidents
                    involving the Explorer, compared with other SUVs equipped with the
                    same tires. But Ford argues that while all of its SUVs involved in such
                    accidents were equipped with the suspect tires, only a few rival vehicles
                    had the same tires, making the comparison invalid. "In the absence of a
                    finding of a root cause," says Ford spokesman Ken Zeno, "all these
                    allegations [of a defect in the Explorer] are pure speculation."

                    Since the 1995 model year, the Explorer has earned four-star ratings in
                    frontal crash tests conducted by NHTSA, meaning driver and passenger
                    would face only a 11% to 20% chance of serious injury. In side-impact
                    tests for the 1999 and 2000 model years, the only ones so tested by
                    NHTSA, the vehicle scored five stars, meaning a 5% or less chance of
                    serious injury.

                    However, it is widely acknowledged that SUVs are inherently less stable
                    in accidents than passenger cars because of their higher center of
                    gravity. NHTSA was set to release its first stability ratings for vehicles
                    this year, but the project was blocked by the Senate. In rollover
                    accidents, Ford contends that government fatality reports indicate the
                    Explorer posts a lower death rate than similar SUVs.

                    Are other SUVs having the problem?

                    No similar pattern affecting rival SUVs has emerged, and other auto
                    makers don't have an explanation. Ford contends that this is further
                    evidence of a tire problem. "The Explorer has the bad tires," says Mr.
                    Zino, the Ford spokesman. Before the tire debacle, Ford already had
                    taken steps to lower the center of gravity of the next-generation
                    Explorer, which is due in January.

                    Who knew what when?

                    Firestone began facing lawsuits in the early 1990s involving tread
                    separations. There were other warning signs: Since October 1997,
                    Firestone has reimbursed State Farm Insurance for damages sustained
                    when treads of the tires now subject to the recall separated.

                    Ford's Venezuela operation began receiving reports of tire problems as
                    early as 1997, and its Middle East units started receiving such reports
                    as early as 1998. Ford says it repeatedly sent failed tires from both
                    markets to Bridgestone/Firestone for analysis and was assured that the
                    tread separation reflected abuse of the tires or underinflation.

                    In Saudi Arabia, for example, Ford officials say it was common for
                    Explorers to be used for "dune-buggying" in the desert. To improve
                    traction on sand, drivers would deflate the tires to 10 to 12 pounds per
                    square inch. After they returned to the highway, the drivers wouldn't
                    always re-inflate the tires and would drive at 100 miles an hour or more
                    for an hour or more. So Firestone's explanation about tire pressure
                    being at issue seems to be valid. But to keep customers in Saudi Arabia
                    happy, Ford replaced failing Firestone tires on Explorers with Goodyear

                    In the U.S., at least eight months before the recall Firestone began
                    compiling documents showing a sharp jump in damage and injury claims
                    involved the Firestone tires in the late 1990s. The documents tracked
                    an increasing number of tread separation claims, their cost, what tires
                    were affected and which factories were producing the most tires with

                    Firestone says it doesn't customarily use such claims when assessing
                    product quality, in part because the numbers of claims is so low
                    compared with the number of tires made. Besides, it expected that
                    claims would increase because these tires were intended for SUVs and
                    light trucks and therefore would be operated in a harsher environment
                    than a typical passenger tire. In addition, SUVs are more inclined to roll
                    over. So Firestone expected some claims to be related to the vehicle
                    characteristics, and not the tire. The company now admits that was a
                    mistake and says it wishes it would have looked at claims more closely
                    as an indication of a safety problem.

                    In February, KHOU television in Houston aired a piece on tread
                    separations, which prompted a flurry of complaints to the National
                    Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency launched its
                    investigation in May, the same month, the agency says, it learned
                    during an unrelated meeting with Ford executives that the company was
                    replacing Firestone tires on some of its vehicles overseas. Critics say the
                    agency should have moved earlier to require disclosure of overseas
                    recalls and replacement programs and monitored lawsuits involving the
                    tire maker and Ford.

                    What is the federal government doing to make sure these
                    accidents don't continue to happen?

                    NHTSA has recommended that Firestone recall an additional 1.4 million
                    tires and may require the company to do so, if it determines there are
                    safety defects with them. Meanwhile, it has issued a "consumer
                    advisory" suggesting that consumers replace these tires as well, and
                    Firestone has agreed to reimburse owners.

                    The agency also wants Congress to increase its budget and provide new
                    enforcement tools, such as a requirement that manufacturers report
                    information about potential defects in vehicles or equipment overseas, if
                    that information pertains to vehicles or equipment sold in the U.S. In
                    recent years, the agency has not required manufacturers to disclose
                    overseas recalls, a policy that allowed Ford to quietly replace Firestone
                    tires on vehicles abroad over the past year without attracting federal
                    scrutiny. Finally, the agency has vowed to update its tire standards,
                    which date to the 1960s.

                    Can Firestone resurrect its brand, or is it dead?

                    Perhaps -- but it is going to cost a fortune. It has decided to drop the
                    name Wilderness, referring to one of two lines of the recalled tires.
                    Firestone is considering the name Terra Hawk as a replacement.

                    Another possibility is to let Firestone fade and push the Bridgestone
                    name with massive marketing and studies that unequivocally show that
                    these tires are safe and made with the highest-quality materials and
                    have gone through demanding performance tests. That is going to cost
                    the company money, not just in marketing but in production.

                    In a poll conducted Sept. 7-11 by Harris Interactive for The Wall Street
                    Journal, 67% of the 814 respondents said the recall would very likely
                    affect their decision to buy a Firestone product. The company says it
                    isn't surprised by its poor image, given the publicity about its woes, but
                    adds that it is determined to change that perception after the recall is
                    concluded. It has hired a new public relations firm -- Ketchum, a unit of
                    New York-based Omnicom Group Inc. -- to help keep the Firestone
                    name alive.

                    If you have a Ford Explorer with the recalled tires, what should
                    you do?

                    Take your car to an authorized Firestone or Ford dealer and asked that
                    they be replaced. Make sure the replacement tires are the right type for
                    an Explorer -- Goodyear put out a notice a few weeks ago cautioning
                    consumers not to put a tire designed for passenger cars on an SUV.
                    Request a refund form from the dealer (or get one off the Web at
          , attach your receipt and mail it in for a $100
                    reimbursement per tire.

                    Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford are replacing 70,000 to 90,000 tires a
                    day. But they don't expect the recall to be completed until late
                    November. About 2.2 million of the 6.5 recalled million tires have been
                    replaced. Some dealers are out of replacement tires. Your best bet is to
                    call stores until you find them. Meanwhile, check your air pressure at a
                    gas station or tire store, don't take extended trips at high speeds and
                    make sure to wear your seatbelt.

                    If you have tires that aren't included in the recall, but are mentioned in
                    NHTSA's consumer advisory, go to an authorized dealer for a free
                    inspection. You can get them replaced and Firestone will reimburse you
                    for up to $140 a tire, providing you have your receipt and mail in a
                    reimbursement form.