Tire Threat: The Road to Recall
Ford Analyzes Data Concerning Safety Of Tires Chosen to Replace Firestones
By JOSEPH B. WHITE and TIMOTHY AEPPEL
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. said it is analyzing data from U.S. Rep.
W.J. "Billy" Tauzin concerning tires the company is using to replace
Firestone tires that it has deemed unsafe. But the auto maker
declined to identify those models that the congressman said could
be less reliable than the Firestones.
The uncertainty has left consumers to guess, for now, which of
about 60 replacement tires identified on Ford's consumer Web site
might be the one Mr. Tauzin says has an inordinately high rate of
tread-separation of 124 per million tires. The confusion also has
brought the Ford-Firestone controversy to an impasse.
Ford Vice President for Safety and Environmental Engineering Sue
Cischke said in a statement Thursday that Ford will carry on with its
program to replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires, at a
cost to Ford of $3 billion, while the company analyzes "the raw
data" supplied by the staff of Mr. Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana
who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Tauzin's spokesman, Ken Johnson, said the congressman has
sent Ford data suggesting that 11 of the replacement tires have
tread-separation rates higher than five per million -- the figure Ford
has cited as a benchmark based on data supplied to Ford by the
NHTSA. Ford officials have questioned the quality of the data Mr.
Tauzin's staff collected, and Mr. Tauzin has qualified his questions by
saying an investigation is needed to determine whether his data are
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also evaluating
the data. After initially promising to deliver preliminary answers on
the potential safety hazard within a day, the NHTSA now is expected
to take closer to 30 days.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. said Thursday it had supplied data to
Mr. Tauzin's committee showing that its light truck tires hadn't been
linked to a single injury or fatality due to a quality failure. A
Goodyear tire was one of two named by an aide to Mr. Tauzin as
being on the committee's list. Continental AG, maker of the second
tire, said it is working with Ford to clear up any questions.
Meanwhile, NHTSA tire-safety experts are under pressure to say
within a month whether any more Firestone tires should be recalled,
since Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael P. Jackson declared
publicly to Mr. Tauzin's committee at a congressional hearing this
week that the agency could meet that deadline. That investigation
stemmed from a recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires last summer.
But there are serious doubts as to whether the NHTSA can wind up
its investigation so quickly. The agency hasn't finished testing the
tires. It must also get clearance from a panel of internal supervisors,
then the administrator. It must also give Firestone 10 days to
respond to any proposal for a broader recall. If Firestone won't
comply, the NHTSA has to apply for an "initial determination" by the
secretary of the Department of Transportation that a recall is
warranted. If the secretary agrees, there must be a hearing with
both sides and only then does the order come down to begin a
The complexity of the task underscores the broader problem Ford
and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. face as they battle to win over public
opinion and influence the actions of regulators and law makers.
Federal officials have now counted 203 deaths linked to accidents
involving sudden tread separations on Firestone Wilderness AT, ATX
and ATX II tires. Many of those fatalities involved Ford Explorers that
rolled over after losing their tire treads.
Ford's position is that the fault lies solely with the tires. Firestone
counters that it recalled last summer 6.5 million tires that had
problems, and charges that now Ford wants it to recall millions more
tires that are good to deflect attention from handling problems with
Any broadening of the recall would devastate Firestone, the U.S. unit
of Japan's Bridgestone Corp. At this point, Ford has to pay the tab
for its replacement program, but if the previous recall is expanded by
a federal agency, Firestone would have to cover the costs to replace
any recalled tires.
"We're certainly awaiting NHTSA's final review. But we believe the
data are very clear: The tires are safe and are performing at
world-class levels," said Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina.
Write to Joseph White at firstname.lastname@example.org and Timothy
Aeppel at email@example.com