Ford CEO Spells Out Tire Recall  Costs in Washington

                       By John Crawley

                       WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ford
                       chief executive Jacques Nasser
                       on Tuesday spelled out the
                       huge costs of the automaker's
                       plans to replace millions more
                       Firestone tires, after rupturing
                       its nearly 100-year-old
                       relationship with the tiremaker.

                       In meetings with
                       Transportation Secretary
  Norman Mineta (news - web sites) and top
  lawmakers, Nasser sought support for the
  replacement effort, which he described in meetings
  with lawmakers as a $3 billion decision that could
  take up to nine months.

  ``The Ford Motor Company is making a huge
  financial decision,'' Rep. W.J. ``Billy'' Tauzin, a
  Louisiana Republican, told reporters after meeting
  Nasser. He said Nasser told him and other
  lawmakers it was a ``$3 billion decision.''

  An aide to Tauzin later said the figure was the cost
  to Ford to replace up to 13 million tires on top of
  last August's recall of 6.5 million 15-inch ATX tires
  and Wilderness tires made at Firestone's plant at
  Decatur, Illinois.

  ``If data is correct. If these tires fail more than
  three times the industry standard then, obviously,
  Ford will have no choice but to do what they are
  doing,'' Tauzin said.

  Ford scheduled a news conference for 5 p.m. EDT
  (2100 GMT) Tuesday with Chairman William Clay
  Ford, Jr. and Nasser at its company headquarters in
  Dearborn, Michigan.

  Meanwhile, Firestone's chief executive John Lampe
  publicly questioned again the safety of Ford's
  Explorer vehicle to which most of the tires were

  Ford and Firestone's historic partnership, which
  Firestone dissolved on Monday, had already been
  strained by the voluntary recall of 6.5 million tires
  last August. The cause was tread separations and
  blowouts linked to at least 174 U.S. deaths, mostly
  in rollovers of the Explorer sport utility vehicle.

  Lampe told ABC's ``Good Morning America'' program
  Tuesday that Ford Motor Co. had ``steadfastly
  refused'' to work with Firestone to understand the
  role of Ford's Explorer vehicles in rollover crashes.

  Ford insists the problem is with the tires made by
  Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp (news
  - external web site). .

  Sources familiar with Ford's plan say the automaker
  is expected to announce on Tuesday it will replace
  up to 13 million Firestone tires, including
  Wilderness tires made at Firestone plants in
  Wilson, North Carolina, and Joliette in Quebec,

  The previous recall covered all 15-inch ATX tires and
  those Wilderness tires made at Firestone's Decatur,
  Illinois, plant.

  Nasser declined to speak to reporters as he headed
  for a meeting with Senate Commerce Committee
  Chairman John McCain. He met earlier in the day
  with Mineta.

  Tauzin said the House of Representatives would
  hold hearings on Ford's plan after the Memorial Day
  holiday on May 28. No date was announced.

                       Tauzin said the top Ford
                       executive defended the
                       performance of the popular
                       Explorer sport utility vehicle in
                       their talks.

                       NASSER DEFENDS EXPLORER

                       ``Nasser said that they do not
                       believe the Ford Explorer
  presents any larger risk than any other SUV as long
  as they are not equipped with these tires,'' Tauzin

  Tauzin said officials at the National Highway Traffic
  Safety Administration (news - web sites) will
  evaluate Ford's data on which it based its
  replacement program and report back to Congress.
  The regulatory agency's investigation of whether to
  widen the recall is not expected to be completed
  before August.

  NHTSA officials say the agency's investigation of
  whether to expand last summer's recall will
  continue regardless of Ford's replacement program.

  ``The investigation will continue. We still have a
  sizeable population of tires out there that have not
  been covered by recall or Ford's action,'' a NHTSA
  spokesman said.

  NHTSA does not expect to complete its probe before

  Ford's replacement program follows days of
  speculation the company was planning action to
  answer new analysis on Firestone tires ahead of the
  summer driving season, when heat tends to
  exacerbate tread separation problems.

  Last month consumer advocates demanded a wider
  recall of Firestone tires, saying the government had
  enough data and should take action on 10 million
  additional tires.

  One source who has worked with the government on
  aspects of its probe said Ford had decided to move
  ahead in at least considering such action, spurred
  by the coming summer season.

  ``I think they are anxious to do that before the hot weather hits,'' said
  the source.

  In Tokyo, Bridgestone's shares dipped sharply on the news, ending down
  9.36 percent at 1,268 yen, underperforming a 0.60 percent fall in the key
  Nikkei share average.

  Bridgestone President Shigeo Watanabe told a news conference in Tokyo
  that Monday's decision to end the relationship with Ford had been
  ``excruciating'' to make.

  ``Ford's stance to make this only a problem of the tires left us no option
  but to conclude that it is difficult to maintain business ties with Ford,''
  Watanabe said. Ford shares were trading down 84 cents at $25.81 on the
  New York Stock Exchanges on Tuesday afternoon, a more than three
  percent decline compared to a half a percent decline in the Dow Jones
  industrial average.