Firestone Chief Says Firm Hasn't Found Defects, but Acknowledges a 'Safety Issue'
                    October 27, 2000

                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    In his first deposition as chief executive of embattled
                    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., John Lampe said the company hasn't found
                    a defect in its recalled tires.

                                         Mr. Lampe acknowledged a "safety issue with a
                                         small percentage of these tires." The difference
                                         between defect and safety issue is technical, but
                                         muddies an already murky situation. Only a
                                         specific flaw, Firestone argues, is considered a
                    defect and at this point the company hasn't identified precisely what is
                    wrong with the tires. "We have not discovered the defect or if there is a
                    defect," he said. "For me, a defect is something you can point to and
                    say 'This is the cause,' and we haven't been able to find that cause or
                    combination of causes."

                                      Moreover, a defect would limit the blame to the tire
                                      itself, while Mr. Lampe said he believes the tires only
                                      pose a safety problem when on Ford Motor Co.'s
                                      Explorer sport-utility vehicle. "I think the vehicle
                                      Explorer has a definite role in what we've seen
                                      happen in the past with our tires on the Explorer,"
                                      he said.

                                      The tires have been linked to about 160 deaths in
                                      the U.S. and abroad, most involving rollovers on
                                      Explorers. Ford officials weren't immediately
                                      available for comment, but in the past the car
                                      maker defended its vehicles and said the problem
                                      was with the tires. Mr. Lampe's deposition came as
                    a group of former Firestone workers from the Decatur, Ill., factory were
                    deposed in tire-related personal-injury cases. Mr. Lampe became
                    Firestone's CEO on Oct. 10, when he succeeded Masatoshi Ono.

                    Such uncertainty involving the cause of the tire failures is being used to
                    argue for widening the recall beyond 6.5 million tires to cover a far
                    larger group of related tires that share the same manufacturing process
                    and raw materials. "If they don't know the root cause, they can't know
                    if they have really solved the problem," with the recall, says Michael
                    Hausfeld, one of the attorneys who participated in the deposition.

                    Mr. Lampe defended the recall, saying that based on adjustment data,
                    testing and claims data "we feel that we have properly identified
                    [problem tires] and in fact been over-inclusive in the recall." His
                    deposition ended abruptly after about five hours, after a federal judge
                    in Indianapolis granted Firestone's request to delay the proceeding.

                    On Wednesday, a judicial panel bundled together more than 60
                    class-action and individual suits connected to Firestone tire-tread
                    separations -- a move aimed at streamlining the pre-trial discovery
                    process. Chief U.S. District Judge Sara Evans Barker ruled that
                    continuing Mr. Lampe's deposition "threatened to undermine the
                    purpose" of consolidating the cases.

                    Mr. Lampe also raised the issue of tire pressure, calling 19
                    pounds-per-square inch the critical threshold of danger. Firestone, a
                    unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., says Ford's recommended 26 psi
                    didn't leave enough of a safety margin, as tires naturally lose pressure
                    over time.

                    In Decatur, former longtime Firestone employees said in depositions
                    that quality controls weren't always followed and that they believed
                    defective tires ended up on automobiles. Yet the longtime retired
                    employees of that plant also defended their co-workers as diligent. The
                    conflicting testimony was considered useful by attorneys for both the
                    tire maker and plaintiffs suing Firestone in personal-injury cases.

                    Jan Wagoner Sr. and Lonnie Dart, both of whom worked at the plant
                    for 32 years, said plant management valued production over quality.
                    "The bottom line was to get those tires out," said Mr. Wagoner who
                    retired in 1995 as a tire classifier inspecting tires for defects.

                    Mr. Wagoner said inspectors couldn't always keep up with the number
                    of tires coming down the inspection line and thus couldn't adequately
                    check them for flaws.

                    Despite the allegations, each of the workers said rules were in place to
                    prevent defects and many managers followed the rules closely. Two of
                    the workers said they are still driving on tires that had been included in
                    the recall. "I wouldn't be driving on them if I didn't believe," in the
                    workmanship, said Charles Hilton, who worked for the plant for 34 years
                    before retiring in 1998.

                    Write to Timothy Aeppel at and Robert Guy
                    Matthews at