Ford Increases Tire Pressure Standard To Match Firestone's Prescribed Levels
                    September 25, 2000

                    By JOSEPH B. WHITE and CLARE ANSBERRY
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. did an abrupt U-turn Friday and said it
                    would recommend that owners of Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles
                    inflate their 15-inch Firestone tires to 30 pounds per square inch
                    instead of 26 pounds.

                                         Ford said its decision to change its decade-old
                                         26-psi-tire-inflation standard for the Explorer
                                         was a move to counter confusion among
                                         customers after strong statements last week by
                                         tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. that
                    Explorer tires should be inflated to 30 psi. Firestone officials said the
                    Explorer has a diminished margin of safety with tires inflated to Ford's
                    original 26-psi specification. On Aug. 9, Ford modified its original
                    specification for Explorer 15-inch tires to a range between 26 and 30

                    But one lawyer active in litigation against auto makers and tire
                    producers said Ford also risked a heightened liability risk if it clung to
                    the 26-psi recommendation in the face of Firestone's warnings.

                    "Given the fact that Firestone has come forward and basically admitted
                    that Ford's recommended air pressure of 26 pounds is a contributing
                    factor to tread separation, Ford will face increased responsibility if they
                    continue to recommend air pressure in the range of 26 pounds," said
                    Tab Turner, a plaintiffs attorney in Little Rock, Ark., who specializes in
                    rollover and tire-tread-separation lawsuits. Ford Vice President for
                    Communications Jason Vines said Sunday that legal concerns weren't
                    the reason Ford's top management changed course.

                    "There's a lot of confusion out there," Mr. Vines said. He said Ford will
                    notify Explorer owners of the new recommendation either through
                    advertisements or letters or both. Ford isn't changing its recommended
                    26-psi inflation standard for Goodyear tires used on Explorers, Mr.
                    Vines said. "Goodyear tested, certified and warranted their tires at 26,"
                    and still does, he said. Ford has asked Firestone to provide data backing
                    up its assertions that 26 psi isn't adequate, he said.

                    The clash between Ford and Firestone over tire pressure highlights the
                    growing rift between the two companies as each tries to shift blame to
                    the other for tread-separation-rollover accidents involving
                    Firestone-equipped Explorers. Bridgestone/Firestone on Aug. 9 recalled
                    6.5 million Firestone Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II P235/75R15, and
                    federal safety regulators are investigating a broader range of Firestone

                    The government has tallied 101 deaths related to sudden tread
                    separation in Firestone tires. In an environment of heightened concern
                    about tire safety, the government also is looking into reports of
                    problems with certain 16-inch Continental General Tire Inc. tires used on
                    Ford's Lincoln Navigator. Continental has announced a voluntary recall
                    of about 160,000 Navigator tires. A separate inquiry is under way into
                    reports of problems with tires made by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

                    In its fight to minimize damage to its highly profitable Explorer from the
                    Firestone debacle, Ford has argued that the tread failures and accidents
                    are entirely the fault of defects in the design and manufacture of
                    Firestone tires, particularly those made at Firestone's Decatur, Ill., plant.
                    Ford said test data from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. indicate that tire
                    pressure would have to decline into "the low teens" before significant
                    "tire degradation" could be expected.

                    But congressional investigators and Bridgestone/Firestone officials have
                    pointed to other evidence that the causes of the tread separations
                    could be more complex than just defective tires. Ford engineers
                    developing the original Explorer in 1989 documented concerns that a
                    prototype Explorer demonstrated a higher risk of rolling over if the tires
                    were inflated to 30 psi or higher, and recommended 26 psi as a partial
                    antidote to handling and ride-comfort problems. That is a lower
                    pressure than used on many other SUVs, although Mr. Vines said Ford
                    knows of about 16 other vehicles, including SUVs, that use similar-size
                    tires at 26 psi. In general, the higher the air pressure, the more weight
                    tires can carry and the longer they can run safely at high speeds.

                    Mr. Vines said Sunday that Ford has tested Explorers with tires inflated
                    to 30 psi, and that all production vehicles should be safe. The Explorer's
                    overall rate of rollover-related fatalities is 19% less than the average for
                    similar vehicles, Ford says.

                    For a decade, Firestone signed off on Ford's lower recommended
                    pressure, which is within industry standard guidelines. But last
                    Thursday, Bridgestone/Firestone Executive Vice President John Lampe
                    told a congressional subcommittee that Explorers with tires inflated to
                    26 psi didn't have an adequate margin of safety in high-speed,
                    high-temperature driving.

                    "Running an Explorer at low tire pressure, overloaded, particularly in hot
                    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 greater load than at 26 psi."

                    If tread separations start to occur at 20 psi, and the recommended
                    pressure is 26, the tires can lose only six pounds before problems begin
                    to develop. The normal tire loses between one and 1.5 pounds each
                    month, Firestone officials have said.

                    Masatoshi Ono, chief executive of Bridgestone/Firestone, a unit of
                    Japan's Bridgestone Corp., wrote a letter to Ford's global purchasing
                    chief, Carlos Mazzorin, urging that Ford adopt a 30-psi standard.

                    After Mr. Lampe's public statements, Ford officials, including Vice
                    President for Environmental and Safety Engineering Helen Petrauskas,
                    told House subcommittee members that Ford saw no reason to change
                    its stance that Explorers were safe with tires inflated to a range of 26 to
                    30 psi.

                    Again early Friday, a Ford spokesman said the company wasn't changing
                    its position. But late Friday, Ford disclosed that Mr. Mazzorin had
                    written a letter stating Ford would adopt the 30 psi recommendation.
                    Ford Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser told employees about the
                    decision in an e-mail message sent out about 5 p.m. Saturday,
                    according to a copy of the message.

                    In his letter to Mr. Ono, Mr. Mazzorin wrote: "We think the media
                    attention generated by your recent testimony regarding tire pressure
                    has caused confusion among our customers. In these trying times
                    surrounding the Firestone tire recall, it is important to eliminate this
                    confusion for our customers." He asserted again that 26 psi was a safe
                    inflation level.

                    Firestone said Ford sent two letters, the first saying that Ford wouldn't
                    change its recommendation on psi. The next day, the second letter
                    came saying the auto maker would change its recommendation.
                    Firestone said it couldn't comment on Ford's thinking but was pleased
                    the car maker listened to Firestone's recommendation.

                    "We are very grateful that Ford is taking this extra step to ensure
                    customer safety,'' Firestone said. ''We believe this recommendation is in
                    the best interest of everyone. We will continue to support the
                    recommendation of 30 psi and hope that Ford will take the extra step of
                    conveying this information to all of its Explorer customers with the
                    P235/75r15 tires," Firestone said.

                    Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is
                    considering opening an investigation into possible problems with tires
                    made by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., an official who spoke on condition
                    of anonymity confirmed. NHTSA has learned of lawsuits involving
                    multiple deaths and injuries allegedly caused by accidents involving tread
                    separation on Cooper tires. But the official also said the agency has
                    received similar information about other tire makers -- not just
                    Firestone and Cooper -- and that it was impossible to assess the
                    likelihood that these complaints would lead to investigations. "There's
                    an increase in information of all kinds," the official said. "We've
                    heightened the public's awareness of complaint databases and hot lines,
                    and people are taking advantage of that."

                    --Milo Geyelin contributed to this article.

                    Write to Joseph B. White at and Clare Ansberry