Safety Research Firm Calls on Firestone and Ford to Recall Defective Tires

31 July 2000

Firestone and Ford Stonewall U.S. Consumers while Recall Underway in Venezuela

    ARLINGTON, Va. - Strategic Safety, a firm specializing in research and 
investigation of motor vehicle safety, is calling on Ford and Firestone to 
recall tires on 1991 through 2000 model Ford Explorers and other Ford trucks 
because of defects that can lead to tread separation and subsequent rollover and 
collisions.

    According to Strategic Safety, who has been tracking the
Firestone/Explorer tire problem for several years Ford is recalling Firestone
tires on all 1996-1999 Explorers in Venezuela because of defects that cause
tread separation, a problem that is also occurring at an alarming rate in the
U.S., particularly in warm climates.

    Firestone is currently under investigation by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) for tread separation failures in its ATX, ATX
II, and Wilderness tires which were designed for and fitted on millions of
Ford vehicles including the Explorer, Ranger, and F-150 since 1991.  According
to Sean Kane, a partner in Strategic Safety, "There have been at least 100
serious injuries and fatalities in the U.S. attributed to the problem."

    Questions about the safety of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers were
raised earlier this year in Venezuela after a number of accidents were
reportedly caused by tire tread separations.  Ford initially denied tires were
defective and blamed the problem on high mileage and excessive speed, and on
tires that were previously damaged.  Ford's Andean division first offered
consumers discounted prices as an incentive to replace tires, but in June the
company announced a recall and began notifying all 1996-1999 Explorer owners
that it would immediately replace all four tires at no cost.

    Kane says, "while Ford and Firestone delay taking action to replace tires,
or even warn owners of the potential hazard, the number of injuries and
fatalities are on the rise in the U.S.  The problem appears to be worsening as
the tires age and when they are operated in hot weather conditions.
Meanwhile, Firestone has been instructing dealers to inform customers that
they have 'full confidence' in their tires' performance but are quietly
providing tires to consumers who demand replacements."

    Earlier this year Firestone offered free tires to Houston-area Explorer
owners after local news coverage of widespread tread separation problems.  In
Southern California, according to a Firestone memo obtained by Strategic
Safety, the company instructs its dealers to replace tires at the customer's
request.  Firestone is reimbursing dealers in San Diego and LA a
$7.50 commission per tire plus a $1.00 scrap fee for their participation.
Dealers are instructed to drill holes in the sides and scrap the tires they
remove.  Again, Firestone's action was initiated only after local news
coverage of two fatal accidents.

    According to Tab Turner, a Little Rock, Arkansas attorney who represents
clients injured in accidents resulting from Firestone tire failures,
"Maintaining vehicle control when a tire physically comes apart at highway
speeds can be very difficult in any vehicle.  In vehicles like SUVs, which are
inherently more unstable due to the combination of high centers of gravity,
narrow track widths, and soft suspensions, maintaining control is extremely
difficult because the vehicle reacts unpredictably, necessitating large
steering corrections.  Consumers are neither trained nor equipped to handle
these situations and are often simply along for the ride once these
catastrophic events occur at highway speeds.  The automotive and tire
industries understand the unique handling problems associated with SUVs when
consumers are faced with these emergencies and they must be forced to take
corrective action before further lives are lost."

    Failures that have occurred in Venezuela's hot climate happened on high-
speed highways, under conditions similar to those found in the southern and
southwestern U.S.  Temperatures in states like Texas, Florida, California, and
Arizona often exceed those found in Venezuela.  Both Strategic Safety and the
federal government note a strong failure trend in southern states.  Heat can
affect tire tread bonding and may be associated with an increased rate of
tread separation.

    Roger Braugh, an attorney with the Corpus Christi, Texas law firm Harris &
Watts, has found that Firestone and Ford are not only stonewalling U.S.
owners, but they are also deliberately delaying the production of documents
that would shed light on the scope, magnitude, and root causes of the defect.
Braugh, who represents several clients severely injured in collisions caused
by Firestone tire failures in Ford Explorers, said

    "Firestone claims its tires are safe based on evaluation of its data, but
    they refuse to produce the data to back these claims.  Although Ford and
    Firestone continue to withhold relevant documents, our own investigations
    reveal that Ford experienced tread separation problems with Firestone
    tires in testing prior to the introduction of the Explorer."

    By Firestone's admission, there are at least 12 million, and possibly as
many as 47 million tires at issue.  The company has sought confidentiality for
its production numbers, which were recently provided in response to the
federal government's investigation.  In a July 28, 2000, Freedom of
Information Act request, Strategic Safety has asked that the data be released
to help the public understand the scope of the problem.

    
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