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 recall: from bad to worse?

    Congressional investigators say replacement tires have higher failure rate than recalled Firestones.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 20, 2001


    WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. could end up recalling more than a million new tires that the company began putting on its sport utility vehicles to replace Firestone tires just last month.

    That possibility emerged at a congressional hearing Tuesday when lawmakers informed Ford's top executive that some tires Ford is using as replacements on SUVs and light trucks fail more often than the Firestone Wilderness AT tires that Ford said were defective.

    But the leader of a U.S. House Committee would only reveal two of the seven brands -- the Goodyear Wrangler HT and the General Grabber AP XL -- that congressional investigators have determined had higher failure rates.

    "If that data is true, then we'd like to see it," Ford CEO Jacques Nasser said. "If it is real, we'll change the recall tires. If it's not, let's not scare the American public."

    Ford has replaced a million Bridgestone/Firestone tires with those made by Michelin, Continental, Goodyear, General, BF Goodrich and Uniroyal, and plans to finish the recall within nine months.

    House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La. said he would not reveal all the claims data showing the failures because tiremakers gave congressional investigators the information in confidence.

    Tauzin asked the federal agency that regulates the auto industry to study the data for 30 days. He said he didn't want to "create a panic" until he knew for certain whether the data is accurate.

    His secrecy led to bickering between some Republicans and Democrats over whether the delay would lead to more deaths and injuries. Like Nasser, some Democrats were surprised and angered to find out about the analysis in newspapers Tuesday and demanded Tauzin share the information.

    "The public greatly wants to know if the tires on their vehicles are safe," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.

    Together, Ford and Firestone have recalled an unprecedented 27-million tires. That includes the 13-million Wilderness AT tires Ford is replacing itself at a cost of $3-billion.

    Tuesday's all-day committee meeting was supposed to answer questions about the Ford-Firestone debacle, which the federal government estimates led to 203 deaths nationwide.

    Instead, it raised more questions about which tires are defective and whether the Ford Explorer, the world's top-selling SUV, shares the blame for the deadly rollover accidents.

    "All we are doing is confusing people," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to conclude its investigation into about 47-million Firestone tires in about a month, said Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of transportation. The agency also began an informal review into the safety of the Explorer, and will announce this summer whether to open a formal inquiry, Jackson said.

    Committee members took turns grilling leaders of Ford and Firestone and blasting them for repeatedly releasing data that blames each other's companies for the crashes without shedding light on what really went wrong.

    "Who are we and the American public to believe?" asked Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla.

    Nasser and Firestone's John Lampe cordially shook hands as the hearing began but special arrangements had already been made so the two bickering CEOs would not have to sit together.

    More than 2,000 auto workers from around the country drove to the Capitol in a caravan of Explorers Tuesday to send a message to Congress that the vehicles they make are safe. United Auto Workers members crowded a park across from the Capitol, waving signs that read "Quality People, Quality Cars," and "Quality is my final answer."

    So many Ford dealers crowded into the hearing room wearing Ford buttons that some visitors had to stand in the back for almost eight hours if they wanted to watch the hearing.

    At times, Nasser and Lampe got testy with lawmakers as they struggled to answer questions. Nasser had several heated exchanges with them as he defended "the toughest decision he has to make" and recall tires by Ford's longtime partner.

    "We are doing it for safety and peace of mind," Nasser said.

    But lawmakers pointed out that Ford did not test some of the Firestone tires the company recalled, perhaps replacing them to boost sales.

    "We didn't test every tire made in this world," Nasser snapped. "Our primary concern was that we needed to move quickly. We didn't sit back and think about it."

    Some questioned whether Ford hurt its customers by replacing good tires with bad ones.

    Committee investigators have been gathering information for months about the claims for property damage filed against several large tire manufacturers. Nasser said Ford asked the highway agency about the replacement tires they planned to use and the agency did not raise any safety concerns.

    Tauzin disputed that, and said one of the replacements has a claims rate of 124 per million tires, much more than the five claims per million threshold that Ford used for its recall.

    Officials from Goodyear and Continental, which manufactures the General tire brand, said they could not comment until they have had time to review the numbers Tauzin cited.

    Committee spokesman Ken Johnson also said two additional Firestone tire models used on Ford vehicles -- the Wilderness HT and the FR480 -- had higher claims rates than Wilderness ATs.

    A St. Petersburg Times analysis found that 41 people have been killed in Florida since 1997 in sport utility vehicles, mostly Explorers, equipped with Firestone tires. Three of them were riding in Ford Bronco IIs, the Explorer's predecessor, which were equipped with FR480 tires, the tires that pre-dated Wilderness ATs.

    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 can replace all our Wilderness AT tires, but Explorers will continue to roll over, and we need to understand why," Lampe told Congress Tuesday.

    Ford blames all the trouble on the tires.

    "This is a tire issue," Nasser said, "and only a tire issue."

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

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