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's sub tires may fail more

    An analysis will be released to Congress today during a hearing that continues the feud between Ford and Firestone.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 19, 2001


    WASHINGTON -- Congressional investigators will reveal today that some of the tires that the Ford Motor Co. has been using as replacements on its sport utility vehicles and light trucks fail more often than some of the Firestone Wilderness AT tires that Ford said were defective, a U.S. House Commerce Committee spokesman said Monday.

    Ford is now using Goodyear, Continental and Michelin as replacement tires, but committee spokesman Ken Johnson would not reveal which brand or brands were problematic.

    Johnson also said the committee found that two additional Firestone tire models used on Ford vehicles -- the Wilderness HT and the FR480 -- had higher rates of claims for property damage than the Wilderness AT. According to a St. Petersburg Times analysis, three people died in Florida in Ford Bronco II's, the predecessor to the Explorer, which were equipped with FR480 tires, which pre-dated the Wilderness ATs.

    The results of the analysis will be released to Congress today at a hearing where Ford and Firestone will continue their nasty, public feud about which company should be held responsible for the scores of deadly accidents across the nation.

    The federal agency that regulates the auto industry also will be in the spotlight for its inaction during the crisis, which the government now estimates led to 203 deaths nationwide.

    Congress will question leaders of both companies and the federal agency about suspected defects in Firestone tires and the Ford Explorer, and could direct the agency to expand its investigation to include the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle.

    "We ought to be looking at more than just tires," said Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs.

    In Florida, the children of a Fort Lauderdale couple made national headlines when they sued Firestone on Monday for $1-billion. A rear tire on the family's Explorer ripped apart on the Florida Turnpike in May 2000, and the couple, Edelio and Norma Herrera, were killed.

    "We are going to send a message to corporate America that if you are going to make the dollars, than you are going to have to think safety first," said Willie Gary, a Stuart lawyer who represents the family. "If you don't hit them in their pockets then . . . you're not going to make a difference."

    Together, Ford and Firestone have recalled an unprecedented 27-million tires. That includes 13-million Wilderness AT tires Ford is replacing itself at a cost of more than $2-billion.

    Today's hearing will give about 40 members of the House Commerce Committee the chance to consider whether a federal investigation into 47-million Firestone tires is enough. Committee investigators have been gathering information for months about the claims for property damage filed against several large tire manufacturers.

    "After carefully analyzing thousands of pages of documents, it's now clear to us that Ford in some cases is replacing Firestone tires with brands that actually have higher claims rates," said Johnson, the committee spokesman. "Why? Frankly, we don't have a good answer."

    The hearing will be led in part by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, the consumer subcommittee chairman. Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Hollywood, and Bilirakis sit on the committee.

    Bilirakis, who is in Florida today for a meeting and probably will return to Washington in time for the hearing, said last September's congressional hearings were just a start. Those hearings examined whether quicker action by the companies and the government could have saved lives.

    After the first set of hearings, Congress passed a law requiring companies to notify the federal government about overseas recalls and gave the underfunded highway agency $9-million for investigations.

    Ford's Jacques Nasser and Firestone's John Lampe will testify at the one-day hearing, but special arrangements had to be made so the two bickering CEOs would not have to sit together.

    Michael Jackson, deputy transportation secretary, also will speak along with two high-ranking members of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Robert Shelton and Kenneth Weinstein.

    Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, an outspoken critic of Ford and Firestone, was asked to testify, his office said Monday. But the offer was withdrawn, said Joe Bizarro, a Butterworth spokesman. Butterworth plans to sue Ford and Firestone on behalf of Floridians, accusing the companies of engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices.

    Pete Sheffield, a House Commerce committee spokesman, said that the scope of the hearing always was intended to be narrow and that Butterworth was never officially asked by the chairman to appear, as protocol requires.

    Instead of testifying, Butterworth and Joan Claybrook, head of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, will submit written statements. Claybrook and other consumer advocates testified at last year's hearings.

    Mike Eidson, a Coral Gables lawyer heading up a massive class-action lawsuit against Ford and Firestone in federal court in Indiana, also will attend the hearing.

    "For months, the nation has watched Ford and Firestone behave like two children in a schoolyard," Claybrook said. "We need to move beyond the finger-pointing and address the real reason (203) people died and more than 700 were injured in Ford-Firestone crashes."

    Claybrook's statement will blame the accidents on Ford and Firestone as well as the federal government's lack of safety standards for SUVs dealing with roof strength, seat structures, safety glass in side windows and side-impact and ceiling air bags.

    A Times analysis found that 41 people have been killed in Florida since 1997 in sport utility vehicles, mostly Explorers, equipped with Firestone tires. A dozen of those occurred after the federal government started investigating.

    The federal inquiry into 47-million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires is well into its second year. Firestone spokeswoman Jill Bratina said the highway agency also began recently an informal review of the Explorer at the tiremaker's request.

    Bratina said Lampe will testify about the safety of Firestone tires still on the road and the company's recent study that shows the Explorer is twice as likely to roll over in a tire-related crash as other SUVs and that a steering problem makes the vehicle more difficult to control.

    Ford officials did not return phone calls Monday.

    Firestone has admitted to some design and manufacturing problems but says Ford also is responsible because of the Explorer's tendency to roll over. Ford blames all trouble on the tires.

    -- Times staff researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report, which also contains information from the Associated Press.

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