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
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
``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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
In Tokyo, Bridgestone's shares dipped sharply on the news, ending
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
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