Regulators Consider Probe Of Goodyear Tire & Rubber
                    November 21, 2000

                    By STEPHEN POWER and TIMOTHY AEPPEL
                    Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators plan to open an investigation into
                    Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. light-truck tires that may be linked to
                    deadly accidents on the nation's highways, three months after a safety
                    recall of millions of Firestone tires.

                    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to announce a
                    preliminary evaluation of Goodyear tires as soon as this week, two
                    people familiar with the review said. The evaluation, the first step in the
                    agency's investigative process, stems from complaints about
                    Goodyear's Load-Range E tires, used mainly on commercial vehicles, as
                    well as pickups, large sport-utility vehicles and vans.

                    Until now, NHTSA officials have said they were "monitoring" complaints
                    about Goodyear tires. The agency declined to go beyond that Monday
                    but said it was aware of 37 complaints regarding alleged failures of
                    these tires, including 31 crashes with 133 reported injuries and 15
                    reported fatalities.

                    Goodyear officials said the company has been in contact with NHTSA in
                    recent weeks, but hadn't been notified that NHTSA had opened a formal

                    However, an attorney representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against
                    Goodyear has talked with federal authorities this month and has sent
                    the agency documents that haven't been sealed by courts.

                    Goodyear says it has received claims involving injuries or fatalities
                    arising from 30 accidents since 1994, leading to 25 lawsuits, five of
                    which have been settled.

                    The federal highway-safety agency has come under intense criticism
                    from Congress in recent months for failing to act sooner to push for
                    the recall of 6.5 million tires made by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and
                    allegedly linked to at least 119 deaths in the U.S. and about 40 deaths
                    overseas. Critics have cited a 1998 e-mail sent to NHTSA by State Farm
                    Insurance noting a pattern of 21 claims involving Firestone tires over
                    the previous six and a half years.

                    More recently, NHTSA officials have been embarrassed by cases in which
                    tire makers withheld information from investigators. The agency's
                    former chief defects investigator, Michael Brownlee, has testified in a
                    pending civil lawsuit that he wouldn't have closed a 1993 investigation
                    into Continental General Tire Inc. had he known about a quiet
                    replacement program the company conducted during the early 1990s.
                    Similarly, in the Firestone investigation, NHTSA officials have complained
                    that Ford Motor Co. didn't bother to notify them until last May that it
                    had quietly begun replacing Firestone tires on its overseas vehicles in

                    In both cases, company officials said they weren't required to notify the
                    agency about their replacement programs because they weren't related
                    to safety, and thus didn't fall under federal regulations that require
                    manufacturers to notify the government about recalls. In response,
                    Congress last month passed legislation to toughen reporting
                    requirements and penalties for noncompliance.

                    For its part, Goodyear maintains that in every case it has studied the
                    tire failures can be traced to factors such as overloading vehicles or
                    punctures, rather than a manufacturing defect. The company says it
                    has produced 27.5 million of the tires since 1990. John Perduyn, a
                    Goodyear spokesman, said 30 accidents arising from 27.5 million tires is
                    "pretty infinitesimal and lower than the norm."

                    Goodyear began investigating its Load-Range E tires at least four years
                    ago, based on internal claims data, and consequently began adding an
                    extra layer of nylon to help hold the steel belts in place. However, the
                    company took three years to make those changes on all the tires in that

                    Even as it was making those changes and as claims mounted, Goodyear
                    didn't notify federal regulators about its investigation -- or the fix it
                    made. The tire maker contends it didn't need to, because it found no
                    defect in the tires.

                    "In this case, they formed a team to work on the issue, identified a
                    problem, and resolved it, but they never notified NHTSA and they never
                    took the problem tires off the road," says Sean Kane, a partner in
                    Strategic Safety LLC, a motor-vehicle safety-research firm.

                    Mr. Kane likened the situation to Firestone. Documents show that
                    Firestone was aware of problems with its tires years ago, but failed to
                    notify NHTSA of its early concerns.

                    There are other parallels to Firestone: The Goodyear tire failures are
                    concentrated in hot climates such as Florida and Saudi Arabia and
                    involve vehicles with a high center of gravity and therefore a relatively
                    higher propensity to roll over in accidents. The accidents occur after the
                    tread and upper belt separate from the lower belt.

                    Firestone's recalled tires were used mainly on Ford's popular Explorer
                    sports-utility vehicle, which -- while often considered a light truck -- is
                    actually far lighter than the vehicles that use Goodyear's Load-Range E
                    tires. "With Goodyear, you're really dealing with a different class of
                    tires," said Mr. Kane of Strategic Safety. "These are tires made for
                    heavier duty, made for a real light truck."

                    Oddly enough, both Firestone and Goodyear took similar steps to
                    strengthen their tires. Goodyear eventually added the nylon layer to all
                    its heavy-duty tires, while Firestone attempted a similar fix to its
                    Explorer tires in Venezuela.

                    In the U.S., tire-industry executives have attributed accidents to drivers
                    who they said failed to keep their tires at recommended inflation levels.

                    Write to Stephen Power at and Timothy
                    Aeppel at