Auto Makers Prepare to Accept Guidelines They Once Opposed
                    September 21, 2000

                    By STEPHEN POWER
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    WASHINGTON -- In a stark demonstration of how much the Firestone
                    tire crisis has eroded auto makers' vast political sway here, industry
                    officials now appear resigned to accept new regulations that they once
                    staunchly opposed.

                    Meanwhile, congressional investigators, continuing to probe how early
                    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. were aware of the
                    problem tires, said Wednesday that Firestone documents show the
                    company conducted random tests of new tires in 1996 and found that
                    nearly one in 10 experienced tread-separation problems, similar to the
                    events that have allegedly been linked to 103 deaths on U.S. highways
                    in the past decade.

                    Bridgestone/Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., last month
                    launched a recall of 6.5 million tires, mounted mainly on Ford's Explorer
                    sport-utility vehicles.

                    In a major setback for auto makers, the National Highway Traffic Safety
                    Administration said it would move by the end of the year to rate the
                    propensity of passenger vehicles to roll over, an event that can
                    compound the danger of an accident.

                    The agency's announcement came after a key legislator, Sen. Richard
                    Shelby (R., Ala.), agreed to rewrite legislation that would have delayed
                    the agency's implementation of its proposed ratings system for as
                    much as nine months.

                    Separately, the Senate Commerce Committee, whose chairman is Sen.
                    John McCain (R., Ariz.), voted unanimously to pass a measure that
                    would impose criminal penalties, including possible prison sentences, on
                    manufacturers who knowingly make defective products that result in
                    injuries or death.

                    "The Firestone case is definitely having an
                    impact on legislators," said Joan Claybrook,
                    president of Public Citizen, one of several
                    consumer-advocacy groups leading the charge
                    for criminal sanctions and federal vehicle-rollover
                    ratings. The case has "educated the public
                    about the failure of deregulation and the lack of
                    protection under federal rules," Ms. Claybrook

                    With congressional leaders hoping to adjourn by early October, it
                    remains unclear whether lawmakers will be able to make good on
                    promises to forward a measure tightening auto-industry safety controls
                    to President Clinton for his signature.

                    But the latest developments suggest Congress is moving faster than
                    some auto-industry lobbyists expected.

                    Documents obtained by House investigators show
                    Bridgestone/Firestone officials randomly tested 229 tires in 1996 at its
                    Decatur, Ill., plant and found that 31 failed, said a spokesman for Rep.
                    Billy Tauzin (R., La.), who is overseeing an investigation of the recall.

                    Of the 31 tires that failed, 20 experienced tread-belt separation, in
                    which the tread of the tire is literally shorn from the tire, the spokesman

                    The test results, which are expected to come to light during a House
                    hearing on the tire recall Thursday, measured the tires' performance at
                    speeds of up to 112 miles per hour for 10 minutes, Rep. Tauzin's
                    spokesman said.

                    Firestone spokesman Dan Adomitis said he didn't have the 1996 test
                    results in front of him but added, "We do a lot of testing and a lot of
                    testing involves failures. In fact, they're an expected result within a
                    testing program because that's how we get information."

                    Meanwhile, Sen. Shelby's reversal to allow the NHTSA to go forward
                    with its rollover-ratings system was a serious setback for the auto

                    The senator, whose home state of Alabama has a DaimlerChrysler Corp.
                    plant that makes Mercedes products, had questioned the reliability of
                    the proposed system, echoing concerns by auto makers and even some
                    consumer advocates that the plan is flawed because it is based on a
                    mathematical formula, rather than "real-world" testing of the vehicles.

                    Just last week, his office said he would stick with a provision in a Senate
                    funding bill that would bar regulators from issuing such ratings until
                    after the National Academy of Sciences completes a study of the
                    underlying science.

                    "He perceived it was in the best interest of his constituents and
                    DaimlerChrysler to kill these ratings," said Clarence Ditlow, executive
                    director of the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy

                    Now, "he's beating a strategic retreat" in the face of an unpopular
                    political position, he said.

                    But the senator's spokeswoman, Andrea Andrews, said the legislation
                    would still fund a study by the National Academy of Sciences, though it
                    would not restrict the NHTSA to wait as long as nine months for the
                    study's completion, as the current bill does.

                    Several auto industry officials said they are increasingly resigned to the
                    likelihood that public outrage over the Firestone recall will lead to new
                    regulations that the industry has long lobbied against.

                    Industry officials particularly object to the criminal sanctions in Sen.
                    McCain's bill, arguing such a move would discourage the industry from
                    the kind of informal information-sharing with NHTSA officials that now is

                    "We hope the Congress will ensure that careful deliberation is not
                    sacrificed for speed in responding to tragic yet extraordinary
                    circumstances," said Andrew H. Card, General Motors Corp.'s vice
                    president for government relations, in a prepared statement.

                    Industry officials expressed anger that problems involving Ford appear
                    likely to lead to a crackdown on all auto makers. "A misstep by one
                    leads to a punishment for all," one industry official said.

                    But the message the industry is hearing from Capitol Hill, this official
                    said, is that tighter regulation is inevitable.

                    "You can challenge it if you want," the official said, "but it's going to get
                    steamrolled through."

                    -- Jeffrey Ball in Detroit contributed to this article.