By TODD ZAUN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
TOKYO -- More than two months into its recall of 6.5 million tires,
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. has found "no major problems" with its
tire-production methods or quality control in an internal investigation,
the president of Firestone's Japanese parent company said Monday.
Bridgestone Corp. President Yoichiro Kaizaki
said Firestone expects to finish its U.S. tire
recall by the end of November. The tires,
mounted mostly on Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer
sport-utility vehicle, have been linked to
accidents that claimed at least 160 lives world-wide, though the cause
of these accidents remains unclear.
Mr. Kaizaki said company investigators haven't uncovered any single
cause for the tire failures. Rather, he said, the investigation, still under
way, would likely find that a complex mix of factors -- such as improper
tire pressure, poor maintenance and the way the tires performed on the
Explorers -- contributed to the failures. In pointing to such factors as
the likely culprits, Mr. Kaizaki was deflecting Ford's contention that the
tires themselves are to blame, not the design of its vehicles. Ford
officials couldn't be reached for comment, but the auto maker has said
repeatedly that there are no safety problems with the design of the
Firestone has hired an independent tire expert, Sanjay Govindjee, an
associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, to pinpoint
the cause of the tire failures. Mr. Kaizaki said he asked Mr. Govindjee to
complete his probe as soon as possible. Mr. Govindjee said last week
that he expects a final report by early next year.
Bridgestone/Firestone has already replaced 4.2 million of the recalled
tires and expects to finish the recall sometime next month, Mr. Kaizaki
said. The tire maker originally said it would complete the recall by the
middle of next year but has moved its target ahead amid a storm of bad
publicity surrounding the crisis.
Mr. Kaizaki refused to comment on evidence of a growing rift between
Firestone and Ford, which has maintained throughout the crisis that the
problem is with the tires. But he was careful throughout the 30-minute
news conference not to directly criticize the auto maker -- one of
Firestone's biggest customers.
Bridgestone and Ford have "a slight difference of opinion" on whether
the problem is entirely with the tires, Mr. Kaizaki said.
Mr. Kaizaki said it was too early to tell how much the recall would cost.
Bridgestone hasn't any plans now to make a charge against earnings
beyond the $350 million special charge it posted in August to cover
costs incurred in the recall.
Bridgestone's shares have declined 60% since the recall was announced
in early August. The crisis prompted the resignation of
Bridgestone/Firestone's chief executive and the layoff of hundreds of
U.S. factory workers as the company cut production.
Mr. Kaizaki refused to comment on whether other managers should
share blame for the problem and said he had no intention himself of
stepping down to take responsibility -- a common move by leaders of
companies in crisis in Japan. "Rebuilding this company is my biggest
responsibility," Mr. Kaizaki said.
Write to Todd Zaun at email@example.com