Ford, Firestone Will Now Work Together To Find an Explanation for Tire Problems
                    December 1, 2000

                    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

                    Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. are trying to smooth
                    over their past antagonisms as the companies seek a common
                    explanation for fatal accidents involving failed tires.

                    Ford and Firestone are now exchanging preliminary findings into the
                    root cause of the tire failures ahead of each company meeting with
                    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials starting Dec. 11
                    to brief the agency on their respective investigations. The companies
                    apparently want to present a united front to federal regulators and,
                    ultimately, to the public.

                    Working together is a major departure for Ford and Firestone, which
                    have been sniping at each other since the Aug. 9 recall of 6.5 million
                    tires, most of which were sold with Ford's popular Explorer sport-utility
                    vehicles. The failure of those tires is allegedly linked to 119 deaths in the
                    U.S. and more than 40 overseas.

                    During September congressional
                    hearings into the recall, Ford
                    executives accused Firestone of
                    withholding crucial claims data that
                    could have signaled safety problems
                    much earlier. Firestone, for its part,
                    blamed Ford for recommending
                    tire-inflation pressures that were too
                    low and allowed inadequate safety
                    margins. Ford insisted repeatedly that
                    the problem was entirely with the tires.
                    Firestone, the U.S. unit of Japan's
                    Bridgestone Corp., has said it was
                    exploring problems with tire design and
                    manufacturing, but also the interaction
                    of the vehicle with the tire.

                    But clearly, the companies have concluded that the finger-pointing they
                    engaged in during those public hearings damaged both sides in the eyes
                    of consumers who were left confused and skeptical about both the tires
                    and the vehicles. In order to move on, both sides need to offer buyers
                    a clear explanation of what went wrong and the assurance that it has
                    been fixed.

                    "Let's face it, it doesn't do either company any good to have dueling
                    analyses," says one person familiar with the situation. Forging a
                    common front could also help the companies face a mounting wave of
                    litigation targeting both companies. "If one of the primary issues in
                    these lawsuits becomes 'Why are the tires failing?' it looks awfully bad if
                    one stands up and says 'it's failing because of this' but the other
                    stands up and says 'No, it's that,' " says Tab Turner, an attorney in
                    Little Rock, Ark., who represents plaintiffs suing tire companies.

                    Firestone is conducting an internal investigation and has hired an
                    independent analyst from the University of California at Berkeley to
                    study why the recalled tires failed. Ford also is doing its own
                    investigation into the tire failures, including the molecular makeup of the
                    tires and how they perform on vehicles. The auto maker won't share its
                    preliminary findings.

                    Ford spokesman Ken Zino says "We continue to meet with both NHTSA
                    and Firestone to work on a resolution of this."

                    Ford and Firestone engineers have been exchanging large quantities of
                    technical data in an effort to agree on the root cause of the tire failures.
                    "We continue to meet on this and we are making progress," Mr. Zino
                    says. But so far, he said, the two companies haven't come to a single
                    conclusion. "It's more a question of interpretation than major
                    differences" over facts, he says.

                    "The key is to make sure we understand what happened and more
                    importantly to prevent its recurrence," says Mr. Zino. He added that
                    Ford believes it owes an explanation to its customers.

                    Christine Karbowiak, a Firestone spokeswoman, says the tire maker has
                    had continuing talks with NHTSA and Ford and that the coming NHTSA
                    meetings are part of that process.

                    Although most members of Congress have turned their attention away
                    from the Firestone recall, NHTSA officials are under pressure to finish
                    their investigation by March, a deadline originally set in September by
                    Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater. The agency is trying to
                    determine whether Firestone should be forced to broaden its recall,
                    which is now limited to certain Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires.
                    Regulators have said an additional 1.4 million tires of various sizes are
                    dangerous and should be included in the recall, but Firestone officials
                    dispute that claim.

                    Write to Timothy Aeppel at, Stephen Power at
           and Joseph White at