A Special Report: St. Petersbrg Times Deadly Combination: Ford, Firestone and Florida
 
 
Deadly Combination:
Ford, Firestone and Florida
Part One
  • Main story
  • Companies warming to settlements
  • At a glance
  • The players
  • Questions and Answers
  • A Timeline
  • What the companies say
  • Interview with Anita Kumar, the reporter
  • Graphic: How the tires failed
  • Graphic: When it’s too late
  • Graphic: By the numbers
  • Graphic: The human toll

  • Part Two
  • After the rollover
  • Suspect tires still on road
  • Driver side rear tires fail the most
  • About this report

  • Contact Anita Kumar:
  • Via e-mail: Click here
  • By phone: (727) 893-8472

    Further coverage
  • In first trial, Firestone settles lawsuit
  • Battered Firestone counting on local ties
  • Rollover crashes are hard to track
  • Ford leaves 2-door SUV unchanged
  • Recall may leave Firestone bankrupt
  • Government to expand tire recall
  • FHP says Firestone tire a factor in fatal crash
  • Two bay area lawsuits target Ford, Firestone
  • Ford agrees to test replacement tires
  • Ford recall: from bad to worse?
  • Ford's sub tires may fail more
  • Attention shifts from Firestone to Ford Explorer
  • Ford widens recall; companies cut ties
  • Ford recalls Wilderness AT Firestone tires
  • Dealerships brace for Ford tire recall
  • Tire decision not just for Ford owners
  • Voluntary tire recall rolling smoothly
  • Firestone cuts deal on bad tires
  • How the tires failed: An interactive graphic

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    Ford to replace more tires

    The automaker is expected to replace millions more Firestone tires voluntarily at no cost to Explorer owners.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


    Ford Motor Co. is expected to announce as early as today that the company will replace millions of Firestone tires on Explorers that may suffer from the same flaws as tires that led to deadly accidents and were recalled last year.

    The world's second-largest automaker plans to quickly finalize a list of Firestone tires that Ford will voluntarily replace at no cost to Explorer owners, said Les Garringer of the Florida Attorney General's Office.

    Lawyers and auto safety advocates said Monday that they expect Ford will replace more 15- and 16-inch Wilderness AT tires on Explorers that were not part of Firestone's massive recall last summer. That could amount to 10-million to 13-million more tires, according to published reports.

    A statement by Jacques Nasser, Ford chief executive officer, released late Monday, said the company planned to inform its customers and the federal government of its latest analysis of Wilderness AT tires and what actions the company will take to address them.

    The move would continue the battle between Ford and the tiremaker over which company is to blame for the accidents that the government estimates caused 174 deaths nationwide. The feud heated up in the last week as the two took shots at each other in the media.

    Earlier on Monday, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. of Nashville announced it is severing its century-old relationship with Ford, one of the longest corporate partnerships in American history.

    Lawyer Bruce Kaster of Ocala, an expert in tire litigation nationwide who is suing Ford and Firestone, said the automaker first wanted to find replacements from other tiremakers before announcing its plan. He said Ford sped up the process after Firestone's announcement Monday.

    A St. Petersburg Times analysis found that 11 people have been killed in Florida since 1997 in Ford sport utility vehicles equipped with Firestone tires that were not part of last summer's recall.

    In all, the Times reported 41 deaths and another 223 injuries in Florida that occurred when the tread on a rear tire peeled off at highway speeds on sunny, warm days, causing an already unstable vehicle to roll over.

    The suspect tires are the same size and design as those that were recalled, but they were manufactured in plants not subject to the recall. Others are the same design but a slightly different size.

    Some of the suspect tires were even installed on vehicles as replacement tires after last summer's voluntary recall.

    "Ford has been aggressive about getting rid of this. Firestone has been dragging their feet. They have done just a lousy, lousy job," said Sean Kane, a partner at Strategic Safety, a research company that has studied the scandal. "Our main concern is just to get these tires off the road."

    Garringer, deputy assistant attorney general in charge of economic crimes, said Ford's actions validate his office's investigation and its decision to sue the companies for engaging in "unfair and deceptive trade practices."

    Firestone officials acknowledge mistakes were made in tread design and tire manufacturing at a plant in Decatur, Ill. But they said that those problems have been fixed and that the remaining AT tires manufactured since 1996 and still on the road are safe.

    "Tires can fail," Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina has said. "Just because a tire fails doesn't mean it's defective."

    Firestone officials did not return repeated phone calls Monday about the possibility of a recall by Ford. Neither did Ford officials, Ken Zino and Jason Vines.

    Ford and Firestone officials met Monday morning in Nashville to discuss the automaker's most recent analysis of Wilderness AT tires, which was based on laboratory and vehicle testing, tire data and talks with federal investigators.

    "We are deeply disappointed that upon hearing and seeing this analysis of Firestone Wilderness AT tires, Firestone decided not to work together for the safety of our shared customers, which is the only issue that matters," Nasser said in his statement.

    Some auto industry experts questionned whether Firestone would survive if the government ordered an expanded recall, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Liz Neblett, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, would not comment on whether Ford would replace Firestone tires but said that it would not affect its investigation.

    "If Ford does that, it's fine," Neblett said.

    The federal inquiry into 33-million more Firestone tires is now in its second year, but the government has yet to issue a mandatory recall or tell the public if other tires or vehicles have the same problems. It asked Firestone to replace another 1.4-million tires, but the company refused.

    "We're still in the middle of an investigation," Neblett said. "It's going to be done when it's going to be done."

    Without issuing a mandatory recall, the federal government along with Ford urged Firestone to voluntarily replace 14.4-million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires last summer. More than 6-million of those tires have been replaced since Aug. 9. Firestone officials said most of the remaining recalled tires are not in use.

    Since the tire recall, Ford has let dealers choose Firestone or non-Firestone tires on 2002 Explorers and Mountaineers.

    - Times staff writer Anita Kumar can be reached at 727-893-8472 or at kumar@sptimes.com.

    Related coverage:
    Ford, Firestone and Florida: a deadly combination
    Part One

  • Main story
  • Companies warming to settlements
  • At a glance
  • The players
  • Questions and Answers
  • A Timeline
  • What the companies say
  • Interview with Anita Kumar, the reporter
  • Graphic: How the tires failed
  • Graphic: When it’s too late
  • Graphic: By the numbers
  • Graphic: The human toll
  • Part Two
  • After the rollover
  • Suspect tires still on road
  • Driver side rear tires fail the most
  • About this report

  • Contact Anita Kumar:
  • Via e-mail: Click here
  • By phone: (727) 893-8472

    Further coverage
  • In first trial, Firestone settles lawsuit
  • Battered Firestone counting on local ties
  • Rollover crashes are hard to track
  • Ford leaves 2-door SUV unchanged
  • Recall may leave Firestone bankrupt
  • Government to expand tire recall
  • FHP says Firestone tire a factor in fatal crash
  • Two bay area lawsuits target Ford, Firestone
  • Ford agrees to test replacement tires
  • Ford recall: from bad to worse?
  • Ford's sub tires may fail more
  • Attention shifts from Firestone to Ford Explorer
  • Ford widens recall; companies cut ties
  • Ford recalls Wilderness AT Firestone tires
  • Dealerships brace for Ford tire recall
  • Tire decision not just for Ford owners
  • Voluntary tire recall rolling smoothly
  • Firestone cuts deal on bad tires




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