Bridgestone/Firestone Testifies Before Senate Commerce Committee
12 September 2000Bridgestone/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.