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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Ford to replace 13 million SUV tires

Advertiser News Services

WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented action, Ford Motor Co. said yesterday it would spend $3 billion to replace 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on more than 2 million light trucks, mostly older Explorer sport utility vehicles.

A Bridgestone/Firestone tire engineer inspects recalled tires for tread wear in the tire inspection area at of the company's testing laboratories.

Advertiser library photo • Sept. 19, 2000

The replacement program is the second involving Firestone tires and would rank as the second-largest tire recall in history. Ford said yesterday the tires are showing "early warning signals" that they are prone to fail as they age.

Ford is undertaking the expensive effort without the support of tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which maintains that the tires are safe. Bridgestone/Firestone severed business ties with the automaker Monday.

It could take nine months to replace the tires.

In Hawai'i, two of the three local Ford dealerships said yesterday that customers were responding mildly to the recall order.

"We've had a few phone calls, but not too many," said Mark Caliri, general manager at Windward Ford/McKenna Motors in Kailua. "The response was much more intense last August," when Ford ordered the first in the round of recalls on Firestone tires.

Ford's action yesterday has prompted a new round of federal hearings in Washington into tire defects and the safety of the Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

Jacques Nasser, Ford chief executive and president, spent much of the day in Washington briefing Congress about the company's plan, which was prompted by an extensive analysis of on-road tire performance, federal safety data and laboratory testing.

Details on Ford replacement initiative
 •  Ford is replacing 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires on its vehicles. The Wilderness AT tires are standard equipment on the Ford Explorer, the world's best-selling sport utility vehicle. The recall represents twice as many tires as the company recalled in the summer of 2000.
 •  Ford said it will contact customers by mail shortly regarding the replacement process. Customers can obtain information at any time by contacting Ford toll-free at (866) 300-1226.
 •  The program encompasses 15-, 16- and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires on the Explorer and Expedition sport-utility vehicles, Ranger pickup trucks and some F-150 pickup trucks. More than 80 percent of the tires being replaced are on the Explorer.
 •  Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers will replace tires at no cost to customers. Ford also will reimburse customers who buy tires from other authorized retailers, with proof of purchase, up to $110 for each 15- and 16-inch tire, and $130 for each 17-inch tire.
 •  Tires can be obtained from the more than 3,500 authorized Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers that sell tires, or from other authorized tire retailers.
 •  A list of recommended replacement tires (none of them made by Firestone) will be available at authorized dealers and will be posted on Ford's Web site.

Source: Ford Motor Co.

The company said it was taking the unusually strong steps as a precautionary action. Nasser said Ford's testing showed that some of the Wilderness AT tires, especially older ones, would fail at three times the expected rate.

Firestone officials fired back that there was nothing wrong with the tires and again pointed a finger at the Explorer, the nation's top-selling SUV.

"Our tires are safe," said John Lampe, chairman and chief executive of Bridgestone/Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corp. "The real issue here is the safety of the Explorer."

Ford's replacement program stems from an earlier recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires mostly on late-model Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles. Failures in those tires have been linked to 174 deaths and 700 injuries. Ford will take a $2.1 billion after-tax charge to pay for the replacement campaign, resulting in a second-quarter loss of 35 cents a share.

To divert replacement tires for the recall, Ford will idle Ranger pickup plants in Minnesota and New Jersey for two weeks and shut down a Louisville, Ky., sport-utility vehicle factory for one week.

The public dispute is sullying the reputation of both Ford and Firestone. It comes as Ford is launching a redesigned version of the Explorer and while Firestone is attempting to rebuild its image in the wake of last year's recall.

Further government oversight of auto safety could result.

Ford, the world's second-biggest automaker, already is facing a host of safety and quality problems across its car and truck lineup. It is also facing scores of product-liability suits over rollover accidents and other safety problems.

Ford said it will replace all 15-inch, 16-inch and 17-inch Wilderness AT tires on a Ford vehicle, whether they are original equipment or replacement tires. Older tires will be replaced first, Ford said.

Ford will replace the tires for free at dealers. Customers can be reimbursed for tires replaced at other tire dealers, up to $110 per 15- and 16-inch tire and $130 per 17-inch tire. No Firestone tires will be offered as replacements.

Nasser said new company data that showed Wilderness AT tires still on the road, including some that were used as replacements in last year's recall, failed at a rate of 15 per million — three times the average tire failure rate. Firestone tires covered by last year's recall failed at rates of between 60 and 200 per million.

John Rintamaki, Ford's chief of staff, said the failure rate on 2.9 million Goodyear tires on Explorers over the past six years was close to zero. But new field data supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that Wilderness AT tires failed at rates significantly higher than 10 different tire brands supplied by three different manufacturers.

In defending the Explorer, Ford officials said their testing showed an Explorer would roll over once every 17 tire failures, while comparable SUVs would roll over once every 14 tire failures.

Firestone has not said whether it would share in the costs of the recall, raising the specter of a legal battle.

Typically, suppliers pay the warranty costs for defects for components they produce.