Executives at Ford, Firestone Will Field Questions From House on Tire-Test Data
                    September 18, 2000

                    By STEPHEN POWER and TIMOTHY AEPPEL
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers plan to call executives of Ford Motor
                    Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. back to Washington this week to
                    answer questions about internal test data that may shed light on how
                    early the companies discovered defects in Firestone tires.

                                         Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.), who is overseeing a
                                         House investigation of the massive recall, has
                                         scheduled hearings for Thursday that will focus
                                         on whether the companies adequately tested
                                         the tires in "real-world situations," his
                    spokesman, Ken Johnson, said.

                    Firestone announced last month it would recall 6.5 million 15-inch ATX,
                    ATX II and Wilderness tires, after the National Highway Traffic Safety
                    Administration reported a sharp rise in accidents involving the tires,
                    largely on Ford Explorers and light trucks. The agency has reported
                    more than 1,400 complaints, 88 deaths and 250 injuries stemming from
                    accidents during the past decade in which Firestone tire treads
                    mysteriously blew off.

                    The hearings also will give lawmakers a chance to build support for
                    legislation to boost federal regulators' budgets and sharpen their
                    enforcement tools.

                    "We are going to produce a bill that's going to be
                    signed into law by the president before
                    adjournment," Mr. Johnson said. "Anybody who
                    gets in the way of this will end up getting
                    steamrolled. Congress is mad, and the American
                    public is demanding action. You don't want to be
                    opposite that tag team."

                    Separately, Venezuela's National Assembly voted to
                    open an investigation into 46 deaths blamed on
                    accidents involving Firestone tires. Lawmakers there
                    will likely ask the presidents of both Ford's and
                    Firestone's local subsidiaries to testify. Venezuela's
                    consumer protection agency, Indecu, is also
                    investigating the suspension and speed-control module on Ford

                    Many of the recalled tires were installed as original equipment on Ford
                    Explorers. In recent weeks, Ford executives have blamed the accidents
                    on the tires, while Firestone officials have suggested the Explorer's
                    design makes it unusually prone to roll over when tires fail.

                    Thursday's hearings will mark the fourth time in the past month that
                    Ford and Firestone executives have appeared before a congressional
                    panel to answer questions about the recall. Among the invited
                    witnesses are NHTSA Administrator Sue Bailey; Helen Petrauskas,
                    Ford's vice president for environmental and safety engineering; Tom
                    Baughman, a senior Ford engineer involved in the tire-recall effort; and
                    Bridgestone/Firestone Executive Vice President John Lampe.

                    Ford officials, rushing to meet a Friday deadline for producing internal
                    tire-test data, sent 16 boxes of documents to Washington by
                    corporate jet. Mr. Johnson said Firestone officials had produced similar
                    test data. Congressional investigators are recruiting tire experts who
                    can help them sift through the material.

                    "It's imperative we have some independent analysts ... to give us an
                    accurate interpretation," Mr. Johnson said. "Since the data is so
                    technical, there could be a smoking gun in the documents, and no one
                    would see the smoke without some independent analysis."

                    Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the company conducted "extensive
                    testing" of the tires in question. "Our attempt is to make it real world,"
                    he added.

                    Most of the tests that congressional investigators are asking Firestone
                    about were conducted in laboratory settings. It isn't unusual for tire
                    makers to conduct hundreds of examinations for a single type of tire --
                    studying everything from the vibration and noise a tire makes to its
                    ability to stop on different types of surfaces.

                    Firestone apparently has given congressional investigators an index of
                    tests conducted during the past decade on the recalled tires, but not
                    the actual results.

                    One person who has seen the index estimates it lists "1,000 to 1,200"
                    different tests, more than half of which listed the failure mode as some
                    sort of tread separation. The index has different codes, such as "tsep,"
                    which means tread separation.

                    Many of the tests appear to be either speed tests, where the tires are
                    run at high speeds to see how they perform, or various types of
                    durability tests, which look at how well a tire holds up under different
                    loads. The tests also include "sweep" tests, in which a tire is run on a
                    machine and the tire turned from side to side.

                    It isn't unusual for tires to fail during testing. Tire makers often say one
                    reason they do the tests is to measure the limits of their products'
                    performance, so they can be sure they have built in a layer of safety.

                    Tab Turner, an Arkansas lawyer who often represents plaintiffs in tire
                    cases, agrees it isn't unusual for a tire maker to subject a tire to 1,000
                    tests or more during the course of 10 years.

                    "But there are certain forms of tests that you wouldn't normally run,
                    unless you're looking for a problem," says Mr. Turner, such as sweep
                    tests. "You don't do those ordinarily." But Mr. Turner, who has seen
                    the index of tests, says there is no reference to tire inflation. "So you
                    can't tell if they're testing at 35 pounds or 26 pounds," says Mr.

                    Tire pressure has emerged as a crucial issue in the Firestone debacle.
                    When tire pressure is low, sidewalls flex more than they are meant to as
                    the vehicle travels down the highway. All that extra flexing can quickly
                    build up high levels of heat inside the tire, which can damage the bonds
                    that hold the tire together.

                    Some accident victims' lawyers, citing internal Ford documents, have
                    speculated that the company believed a lower tire pressure would
                    provide more vehicle stability. That was a particular concern because
                    SUVs such as the Explorer are more prone to rolling over than
                    passenger cars due to their higher center of gravity and boxy design.

                    Firestone officials have recommended the tires be inflated to a level of
                    30 pounds per square inch. One reason Rep. Tauzin is so insistent on
                    seeing the company's test results is that its executives said during
                    hearings last week that they didn't know if the company had ever tested
                    its tires at 26 pounds per square inch, the inflation level Ford originally
                    recommended to consumers.

                    A bill sponsored by Rep. Tauzin and Rep. Joe Upton (R., Mich.) would
                    direct the NHTSA to overhaul its tire-test standards, adopted in the
                    1960s before the widespread use of steel-belted radial tires. The
                    legislation also would increase funding for the NHTSA's defect
                    investigators and require manufacturers to report defects on its
                    overseas vehicles, so regulators are no longer left in the dark -- as they
                    were during the past year when Ford quietly began replacing tires on its
                    vehicles abroad.

                    The NHTSA said it had asked State Farm Insurance Cos. to provide
                    more information about claims involving the recalled tires, as well as
                    other models of 15- and 16-inch tires. The agency, which has been
                    criticized for not acting on a 1998 e-mail from State Farm about cases
                    of tread separation involving Firestone tires, is seeking details about
                    accidents that would allow it to determine how many accidents have
                    occurred involving the tires.

                    The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 13 foreign
                    and domestic auto makers, announced Friday its members would
                    voluntarily report to the NHTSA safety recalls and other safety
                    campaigns that are conducted in a foreign country on a vehicle or
                    component part that is also offered for sale in the U.S.

                    Separately, the Tennessee attorney general's office said it is
                    investigating reports that some independent used-tire dealers are
                    selling recalled Firestone tires. Once purchased, the recalled tires could
                    be traded by customers for free, new replacements under
                    Bridgestone/Firestone's recall program.

                    -- Joseph B. White in Detroit contributed to this article.

                    Write to Stephen Power at stephen.power@wsj.com and Timothy
                    Aeppel at timothy.aeppel@wsj.com