Firestone Recall Drives Interest in 'Smart' Tires
                    November 22, 2000

                    By TIMOTHY AEPPEL
                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Tires can be made to do amazing things. They can sense a drop in their
                    internal pressure and automatically pump in more air. They can be built
                    to run safely for miles after a blowout and to signal when they're
                    leaking. They can even link to the Internet.

                    Now, thanks to the Firestone fiasco, drivers may actually start seeing
                    some of these things, beginning with pressure monitors.

                    In the wake of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s massive tire recall, Congress
                    has mandated that within three years all new cars will be outfitted with
                    warning systems to indicate to the driver when a tire is significantly
                    underinflated. Low inflation is considered a major factor in tread
                    separations that have been linked to 119 deaths in the U.S. and more
                    than 40 overseas, mostly on Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer. Underinflated
                    tires build up levels of heat that can damage the internal structure of a

                    But this is just the tip of the tire-technology iceberg. The day may be
                    coming when people view tires as they do the maze of parts under the
                    hood: far too complicated by electronics and other gadgetry for a
                    layman to fiddle with.

                                                That's quite a switch. Until now, not
                                                   many consumers or car makers have
                                                   been willing to pay extra for fancy
                                                   tire features. Indeed, tire makers
                                                   have struggled to sell new safety
                                                   measures to car makers, who have
                                                   repeatedly balked at the increased
                                                   cost, leaving proven technologies
                                                   languishing on shelves and in
                                                   laboratories. Now that Congress has
                                                   weighed in, car makers have no

                                                   Pressure monitors have existed for
                                                   decades. Congress tried to require
                                                   them after an earlier Firestone recall
                                                   in the 1970s, but that initiative was
                    dropped by the Reagan administration as part of its effort to streamline
                    government regulation.

                    Some cars are sold with monitors, but it's hardly widespread. Systems
                    are also available that can be added to existing cars. But until
                    Firestone's problems, few car makers thought of the feature as
                    something that most buyers cared much about.

                    "It's one of those driver-convenience, security-type of features that
                    we've quietly installed and not done much about on the marketing side,"
                    says Terry Rhadigan, a spokesman for General Motors Corp.'s technical
                    center in Warren, Mich. GM figures about a third of its 2000 model-year
                    cars have some type of pressure monitor. The systems are sold either
                    as standard equipment or included in a package of features, so there
                    isn't a specific price tag attached to it, Mr. Rhadigan says.

                    Monitors come in many forms. Some are as simple as a flashing light on
                    the dashboard or a buzzer, while others allow a driver to scroll through
                    the various tire positions and see a digital readout of the tire pressure
                    on each of the four tires. Some integrate the display in the overhead
                    console, while others put the display in the dashboard or even the
                    rearview mirror.

                    Some systems use radio waves sent directly from the tire to a receiver
                    viewed by the driver. Others piggyback on a vehicle's existing antilock
                    braking system and are simply programmed to watch for subtle changes
                    in the speed a tire is spinning, which can indicate changes in tire

                    Bob Ellis, vice president of product marketing and brand development
                    for auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc., says his Milwaukee
                    company has seen a surge of interest on the part of car companies in
                    monitoring technology since the Firestone recall. "Auto makers want to
                    do something very quickly," he says.

                    Johnson Controls will start selling a system in January that can be
                    retrofitted to existing cars. The system requires installing sensors on
                    each tire and a special rearview mirror that integrates a battery-powered
                    monitoring display into it.

                    "Future generations will measure a lot of other things besides
                    pressure," such as the load being carried by each tire, Mr. Ellis says.
                    Too much weight can increase the stress on a tire and elevate the
                    temperature of the materials that make the tire. Heat can break down
                    the bonds that hold the tire's components together.

                    Schrader Electronics, part of Britain's Tompkins PLC, sells a monitoring
                    system built around a special air valve. The next generation of the
                    valves, according to the company, will measure the temperature of the
                    air inside a tire, thus keeping an eye on the heat, as well as its
                    pressure. "We'd like to think that in the future we'll have sensors in
                    different parts of the tire" such as the tread and the sidewall, says Carl
                    Wacker, a spokesman.

                    There are even more things on the drawing board. Cycloid Co., a tiny
                    company in Cranberry, Pa., has developed a device about the size of a
                    hockey puck that monitors tire pressure and keeps it at a preset level.
                    The company already sells a version for trucks and is working with
                    Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which holds a minority stake in Cycloid, to
                    develop one for cars.

                    Grant Renier, founder of the company, says his system could even
                    transmit information about an emerging tire problem directly to the
                    Internet. Drivers "would get a call on their cell phone, with a human
                    voice telling them the location of the nearest service station," Mr. Renier

                    Run-flat tires are another technology getting a boost from the Firestone
                    recall. France's Groupe Michelin SA sells a system that, after alerting the
                    driver that a tire has developed a flat, uses a special insert and a
                    distinctive tire design that allows a vehicle to be driven up to 125 miles
                    at 55 miles per hour afterward.

                    "By 2010-2020, the aspect of a consumer changing a tire will be gone,"
                    says Robert L. Carroll, vice president of marketing at Michelin North
                    America Inc., Michelin's U.S. subsidiary. People will simply drive to the
                    nearest service station to get a tire repaired.

                    Michelin's tire will be standard equipment on the Cadillac luxury roadster
                    that General Motors will unveil in mid-2002. It is Michelin's first sale of
                    the technology in the U.S.

                    Until now, tire makers found it difficult to sell run-flats. They were
                    hampered by the relatively high cost of such tires and resistance from
                    car makers, who have reservations about the new technology.

                    At a recent tire-industry conference in Akron, Ohio, a series of
                    engineers from various manufacturers presented their varying versions
                    of run-flat tire systems. But then representatives of GM and Ford got
                    up and noted that, among other things, the new tire systems can have
                    an adverse impact on ride and handling.

                    Daniel Haakenson, a product-development engineer at Ford, told the
                    group that Lincoln Continentals are offered with run-flat tires for an
                    additional $640, but only 1.8% of consumers choose the option. He
                    said the price of run-flat systems would have to drop by more than half
                    before a large group of consumers would opt for it. Tire makers insist
                    that, as is the case with any new technology, price will go down as
                    volumes increase.

                    Write to Timothy Aeppel at