Firestone Analysis Shows Problems Are Mostly in One Line of Its Tires
                    November 7, 2000

                    By CLARE ANSBERRY
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s analysis of failed tires, though not final,
                    shows significantly more problems with one line of its recalled tires and
                    that failures occur most often on the left rear, indicating some
                    connection with the design of the vehicle.

                                         Determining what went wrong with the tires is
                                         crucial for Firestone in trying to assure
                                         consumers that the problem can and will be
                                         corrected. In August, Firestone, a unit of
                                         Japan's Bridgestone Corp., recalled 6.5 million
                    tires, linked to 119 deaths in the U.S. and more than 40 overseas,
                    involving accidents mainly on Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer sports-utility
                    vehicle. Firestone has been trying to pinpoint the cause ever since,
                    conducting its own internal analysis as well as monitoring the work of an
                    independent expert, Sanjay Govindjee, an associate professor at the
                    University of California, Berkeley.

                    "Based on the company's review to date, our technical teams believe the
                    performance issue with the tire ultimately will be the cumulative effect of
                    tire design, tire components and the interaction of the tire with the
                    vehicle," said Firestone Chief Executive Officer John T. Lampe. He said
                    4.8 million of the 6.5 million recalled tires have been replaced.

                    Firestone said it has determined that claims for Wilderness tires number
                    one-tenth of those for equal-size ATX tires made at the company's
                    Decatur, Ill., plant. The Decatur plant has been responsible for a
                    disproportionate number of tire complaints and is also the subject of
                    ongoing investigation. The disparity is leading the company to examine
                    how the two tires differ, specifically the respective tread design and the
                    bonding material between the two steel belts.

                    Dick Baumgardner, a tire expert who often testifies against tire makers
                    in lawsuits, said the treads on certain of the recalled tires are too wide
                    and the corners too squared off. With a wider tread, more rubber
                    comes in contact with the pavement, which tends to heat up the tire. If
                    the corners are squared off, there is more stress -- and again heat --
                    on the edges of the steel belts. The depth and width of the tread
                    grooves also affect how heat is dissipated and, thus, temperature as

                    Heat accelerates the breakdown of the bond between the steel belts,
                    particularly if that bond already seems to be vulnerable to heat, as in
                    the case of the recalled tires. Indeed, along with examining design,
                    Firestone is focusing on the material between the two steel belts and
                    whether that material can resist the heat generated by a tire during
                    normal operation without losing strength. The interbelt area, which
                    includes the steel cords that are made into two belts coated with rubber
                    and a strip of rubber between the edges of the two belts, is critical
                    because that is where tread separations tend to occur.

                    "That particular layer between two belts seems to almost be explosive in
                    terms of its breaking down," says Mr. Baumgardner. "We don't have the
                    same breakdown around the tires, but just in the one thin layer
                    between the two belts."

                    Firestone has also determined that the vast majority of claims on the
                    recalled tires involve a left rear tire, leading to questions about how a
                    vehicle's design puts more load or stress on that particular tire. In
                    testing on Explorers, Firestone's Greer Tidwell said that even when
                    sitting still, the left rear tire on the Explorer experienced a greater
                    weight load. The load on the tires can affect the temperature of the
                    materials inside the tire, which Firestone measured with an internal

                    During those same tests, the company found that lower tire inflation
                    generated excessive heat. The issue of tire inflation has been raised
                    repeatedly since the recall, especially since Ford had recommended that
                    drivers inflate their tires to 26 pounds a square inch, which Firestone
                    believed didn't provide enough of a safety margin. Firestone has said
                    the tires should be inflated to 30 pounds a square inch, which Ford is
                    now recommending.

                    Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said left rear tires have been involved in
                    tread separations on all vehicles and not just the Explorer. "That's a
                    consistent pattern and shows nothing unusual about the Explorer." He
                    said Ford hasn't completed its own analysis. "We're not really ready to
                    get into what we have found until we have the complete analysis done,"
                    he said.

                    Write to Clare Ansberry at