Bridgestone/Firestone Testifies Before Senate Commerce Committee

12 September 2000

Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. Testifies Before Senate Commerce Committee
            Company Reinstates Inspection and Replacement Program
          For Tires Identified in NHTSA's Sept. 1 Consumer Advisory

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 In strongly-worded language, an
official of Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. (BFS) told the Senate Commerce
Committee today that the company was taking full responsibility for the
failures that led to the recall of an estimated 6.5 million tires while at the
same time agreeing that government safety standards should address updating
tire standards and the relationship between the tire and vehicle.
    "We are not vehicle experts," John Lampe, BFS Executive Vice President
told the legislators, adding that there are still critical issues to be
studied regarding the interaction between tires and vehicles.  He suggested
the industry and government step up efforts to deal with safety issues. "The
issues relating to these vehicles have, regrettably, been difficult for us,"
Lampe said, adding that these issues -- including rollovers, tire inflation
and overloading -- "may have made it harder for us to see the [tire] problems
that we have now recognized."
    Acknowledging that the August 9 voluntary recall has "shaken the trust and
confidence of the American people in our products and our company," Lampe
emphasized that the 100-year-old company was committed to restoring that
confidence.  "We make great tire products on which millions of customers have
driven billions of safe miles." Lampe also said the company was committed to
working with the auto industry and government safety regulators to develop
early warning systems to identify failure treads and pressed for tire pressure
indicators in the vehicle.
    The official said the company had narrowed the focus of its investigation
to the combination of design and process issues relating to the Wilderness AT
P235/75R/15 tires manufactured at the Decatur plant.  There are other issues
that still need investigation regarding the tire failures.  He also suggested
the safety issue was more complicated than tire failure, and he announced the
appointment of Dr. Sanjay Govindjee, an Associate Professor in the Civil and
Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California,
Berkeley, as an independent third party to solve what he called "the tire
piece of the puzzle."
    Lampe also announced that for customers who may be concerned about tires
in the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Consumer
Advisory, BFS is providing free inspections at company-owned stores and
authorized retailers.  Furthermore, the company is prepared to replace any of
the tires covered by the Advisory dated Sept. 1, "if a customer is still
concerned ... if necessary, we will use competitor's products." If a customer
chooses to visit a competitor's location to obtain replacement tires under
this program, BFS will reimburse customers up to $140 per tire.
    "Obviously, if there is a problem, we'll fix it," Lampe said.

    

              Remarks of John Lampe Prepared for Delivery Before
               The Senate Commerce Committee September 12, 2000

    Last month on August 9 our company announced a voluntary recall of over 14
million tires that we made over a ten-year period.  We took this action out of
a concern for customer safety and in order to address the ever-increasing
number of questions being raised about the recalled tires and our company.  We
were not, however, prepared for the intensity of the public response to both
the recall and to our subsequent actions.  We must and do take full
responsibility for the recalled tires and the things we have done since August
9 which may have contributed to public confusion and concern.  These actions
and the events leading up to the recall have shaken the trust and confidence
of the American people in our products and our company.  Candidly, it has
shaken the confidence of our 35,000 North American employees who should be
celebrating one hundred years of a proud Firestone tradition.
    While we have worked hard to be open and honest in these hearings and with
the American public, we know that we have not been successful in communicating
our most basic message:  That our company, and the thousands of
Bridgestone/Firestone employees who make up our company, have a true and deep
concern for consumer safety and customer satisfaction.  We pledge to take
every action possible to rebuild public confidence in our company, in our
products and in our commitment to public safety.  We pledge to develop open
and transparent processes so that our customers, Congress and the public can
have confidence that we have done the right thing and will continue to do so
in the future.  From the bottom of my soul, I know we have a true and deep
concern for consumer safety and customer satisfaction.  We make great tire
products on which millions of customers have driven billions of safe miles.
    But we recognize that we have a problem -- a very complex problem that
must be solved because lives are at stake.  For too long we didn't see the
problem.  The tire industry's traditional measures of product performance --
test data, analysis of failed tires, and warranty adjustment data -- told us
these tires were fine.  And though we knew we had claims, and we evaluated the
tires involved in those claims, we did not believe the statistics generated by
those claims were a good indicator of product performance.
    Why didn't these claims statistics make us sit up and take notice?  First,
we knew that even the best made tires can and will fail; so some level of
claims was expected.  We also knew that since these tires were intended for
SUVs and light trucks, they would be operated in a more harsh environment than
the typical passenger tire, which could increase the expected number of
claims.  In addition, since we knew that SUVs are more inclined to suffer a
rollover than other passenger vehicles, we understood that some number of
claims would be related to the vehicle characteristics.  As has been shown in
federal databases, tire related rollovers account for less than 10 percent of
the total fatal rollovers in these vehicles.  And finally, we believed until
recently that the accidents and claims reported were simply part of supplying
a very large number of tires to vehicles like SUVs and light trucks.  Our
feeling that the large population and vehicle characteristics alone explained
these accidents was wrong -- our own data ultimately demonstrated that.
    In early August, with the assistance of Ford, we conducted a statistical
analysis of claim data that demonstrated that the tires are clearly part of
the problem.  When we fully understood this new analysis, we acted to get the
tires off the road, even though we could not identify the source of the
problem.  We acted because every accident that causes serious injuries or
death rips our hearts out.
    Failure is a result -- we must now focus on the cause.  We have been
working day and night trying to determine the root cause or causes of the tire
problem.  Finding the cause is made more difficult because we are looking at a
very small percentage of failures in a very large population of tires.  In
addition, each tire is operated under a unique and highly variable set of
conditions which also affect tire performance and failure.  Duplicating those
factors and conditions has proved to be a difficult task.  However, we believe
we have narrowed the focus and believe the solution may lie in two areas --
the unique design specification of the 235/75R/15 combined with variations in
the manufacturing process at the Decatur plant.  But it is not simply good
enough to rely on what we believe.  We have appointed Dr. Sanjay Govindjee, an
Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at
the University of California, Berkeley, as an independent third party to
review our work to date and to help us move to a more definitive solution on
the tire piece of the puzzle.
    We take full responsibility for the tire failures.  We firmly believe,
however, that the tire is only part of the overall safety problem shown by
these tragic accidents.  If we are really concerned about consumer safety, we
should leave no stone unturned.  There are other questions that still must be
answered such as:

    *  The entire issue of the tire inflation pressure selected by the vehicle
       manufacturer must be addressed.  Does that pressure provide adequate
       safety margin to guard against damage caused by underinflation and
       overloading?

    *  For example, since, at 26 PSI the Explorer has little safety margin to
       guard against overloading, we have now recommended 30 PSI for these
       vehicles.   Problems can occur if and when the air pressure drops below
       the originally specified level.  What margin of safety should be
       required?

    *  Tires will fail, and do so for a number of reasons.  In most cases a
       vehicle that experiences a tire failure can be brought safely under
       control.  However, we have seen an alarming number of serious accidents
       from rollovers of the Explorer after a tire failure.  Since we know
       tires will fail, is there a dynamic test that can minimize the role of
       the tire in such catastrophic events?

    Last week the witnesses before other Congressional Committees, including
Mr. Nasser, Mr. Pittle, Mr. Ditlow and Ms. Claybrook, raised important
questions about the critical issue of the interaction between tires and the
vehicle upon which they operate.  We applaud that effort and look forward to
working with the Committee and the NHTSA on these issues.  We believe that in
the interest of public safety, one area of focus for future evaluations should
be the interaction between the tire and the vehicle in SUVs and small light
trucks.  The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not fully address this
vehicle population -- a population which has exploded in the past ten years.
The issues relating to these vehicles have, regrettably, been difficult for us
-- we are not vehicle experts.  These issues may have made it harder for us to
see the problems that we have now recognized in the recalled tires.
    Where do we see the future?  First, the tire industry, the NHTSA and the
auto industry all need to work together to immediately detect and address tire
problems.  We fully support the NHTSA on:

    1.  Reporting of overseas information regarding tire safety
    2.  Revisions to the tire safety standards
    3.  Developing early warning systems to quickly identify failure trends
    4.  Dynamic testing to identify those vehicles which have tendencies to
        roll-over and to design ways to address this issue
    5.  Increasing penalties for violations of the safety laws and regulations
    6.  Working with the auto industry and regulators to develop tire pressure
        indicators in vehicles

    We also strongly believe in educating the public about the importance of
tire maintenance.  We have developed a comprehensive multi-part program to
better accomplish this.  We have already begun work on this nationwide
campaign and will use our almost 7,000 company stores and Firestone dealers to
provide consumers with safety information through a variety of methods and
media.
    I would like to turn back to the recall now.  We have been working day and
night to complete the recall as fast as possible.  Our 35,000 North American
based employees are dedicated to the task and want to help as much as possible
by getting the recall completed quickly and on continuing to make the high
quality products our customers have come to expect.  Our dealers and our
stores are also dedicated to the task of getting this recall completed quickly
and efficiently.  As of today, we have replaced about 2 million tires.  We are
airlifting tires from Japan and we have made it possible for consumers to
replace the recalled tires with competitor's tires to get this effort
completed.  All of this with one objective in mind -- to get the recall done.
    A little over a week ago, the NHTSA requested that we recall an additional
1.4 million tires consisting of 24 product lines or sizes.  On nine of these,
the Agency's request was based on the existence of just one tread separation
claim.  Neither the Agency nor Bridgestone/Firestone has ever previously used
claims data as the sole basis for a tire safety decision.  Nevertheless,
Firestone is committed to working the NHTSA toward developing a cause-based
standard based on sensible and rational criteria that is applicable across the
entire industry.  While at this point Firestone cannot commit to a recall of
these lines, we have begun a customer satisfaction program involving the tires
discussed in the NHTSA Consumer Advisory.  Regarding these tires, we will
provide a free inspection at our company-owned Firestone Tire & Service
Centers or authorized participating retailer.  If there is a problem, we will
fix it.  If a customer is still concerned about his or her tires, we will
replace the tires at no cost to the customer.  If a customer chooses to visit
a competitor's location to obtain replacement tires under this program,
Bridgestone/Firestone will reimburse customers up to $140 per tire.
    We are committed to take every step necessary to address these problems.
We pledge our cooperation with the Committee and with the NHTSA to work to
ensure the safety of the motoring public.  As a tire manufacturer we will
"serve society with products of superior quality" and work diligently to
regain the trust of our customers.
    Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the time, and welcome any questions that the
Committee has.



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