WASHINGTON -- Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., "shaken to the core" by a
recall of tires linked to 101 U.S. traffic deaths, told a congressional
panel that Ford Motor Co.'s recommended tire pressure apparently
contributed to accidents.
Firestone's executive vice president, John
Lampe, told a House of Representatives
subcommittee investigating the recall that his
company recommended the tires be inflated to
30 pounds per square inch. But Ford, which
uses the tires on its popular Explorer and some other light trucks,
suggested they be inflated only to 26 pounds.
"Running an Explorer at low tire pressure, overloaded, particularly in
climates appears to be a serious part of the problem we are now facing"
Mr. Lampe said.
"We believe very strongly that 30 PSI provides the consumer with
additional safety margin; at 30 PSI, the Explorer can handle higher
speeds and over 400 pounds [180 kilograms] greater load than at 26
Mr. Lampe said Bridgestone/Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone
Corp., sent a letter to Ford on Wednesday urging the company to
change its recommendation to 30 PSI.
Helen Petrauskas, Ford vice president for environment and safety
engineering, countered that "for the better part of 10 years, Firestone
agreed and repeatedly supported and certified to the recommended tire
pressure of 26 PSI."
She added that "all the requisite testing which needs to be done at the
recommended customer tire pressure was done."
Mr. Lampe said "we are not vehicle experts" and the company deferred
to Ford believing it knew better what tire pressure would produce
Ford officials previously have said the lower tire pressure was
recommended for a smoother ride and to limit the possibility of
rollovers, and didn't compromise overall safety.
Bridgestone/Firestone last month recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and
Wilderness AT tires, most of which were original equipment on
Explorers. Thousands of people have reported tread separations,
blowouts and other problems with the tires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday
lowered the number of U.S. deaths linked to the tires to 101 from 103
after discovering a clerical error. There also have been more than 50
deaths outside the U.S.
The agency says more than 400 people have suffered injuries in
accidents involving the tires. Most were rollovers of Explorers.
Mr. Lampe said Firestone still hasn't determined what caused some tires
to fail, but has focused on possible manufacturing problems at its plant
in Decatur, Ill.
"We must and do take full responsibility for these problems," he said.
"The fact that our customers are now questioning our commitment to
them and to their safety has shaken us to the core."
At the opening of the hearing, Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House
commerce telecommunications subcommittee, said
Bridgestone/Firestone's own testing indicated problems with the tires in
1996, yet the company did nothing.