Firestone 2000 Recall Research Paper

The model names of the recalled tires are ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT, all for 15-inch wheels, with a size designation that is P235/75R15. All such ATX and ATX II tires are being recalled, but only those Wilderness AT tires that also have a Transportation Department 10-digit designation starting with the letters VD are being recalled.

For reasons that the company could not explain, the Wilderness tires made in Decatur, Ill. -- the ones designated VD -- seemed prone to failure, along with ATX and ATX II tires made in a variety of plants.

''We have not identified any manufacturing or design defect,'' Gary B. Crigger, executive vice president of the company, said at a news conference. ''We're pulling this size now, rather than try to figure out what the answer is,'' he said, and the company has not had time to ''do the forensics'' on tires in accidents.

Experts agreed, though, on the likely mechanism for the failure: heat, generated by tire sidewalls that flex excessively because there is too little air in the tire or too much weight on the vehicle. The problem is probably worsened by hot pavement and air temperatures, according to company officials and others.

Ford said today that it became aware of the problem a year ago, with ''anecdotal reports'' from Saudi Arabia, where drivers let air out of the tires to drive on the desert, then returned to paved roads and drove at high speeds without reinflating the tires. Ford has offered free replacements in several countries with hot climates.

Bridgestone/Firestone, which is the United States unit of the Bridgestone Corporation of Japan, acted in this country today after extensive discussions with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ford.

Bridgestone would not disclose the cost of the recall.

The deputy head of the safety administration, Rosalyn G. Millman, said in a statement that she was pleased that Firestone ''has taken a positive step toward resolving this safety issue.'' But a spokesman for the agency, Rae Tyson, said that its investigation had begun only in May and that the agency did not know enough now to order a recall.

Mr. Tyson said that the agency had begun its inquiry primarily because of an increasing number of complaints from consumers and that in recent days, as news reports cited the failures, the number of complaints rose sharply. The number of deaths being investigated as part of the agency's inquiry increased to 46 from 21 in the last week.

''I don't think anyone would want us to jump to any conclusions based on an investigation that just began,'' Mr. Tyson said. A crucial question for investigators looking into cases in which vehicles rolled over and had damaged tires is whether the tires were the cause, he said.

But some critics said the government response had been slow.

The safety agency has had weak leadership and has been preoccupied with other issues, including faulty rear-door latches on minivans, and sidesaddle gas tanks on pickups, said Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the highway safety agency and now director of Public Citizen, the consumer rights group.

Ms. Claybrook said the companies had also been derelict. ''The first lawsuits they settled were back in 1992, and they've known about this for years,'' she said.

''They settled them with gag orders,'' she added. ''This has been a big cover-up for years.''

Mr. Crigger of Firestone said the company was facing 50 lawsuits. Asked whether secrecy clauses in the settlement agreements were intended to cover up the problem, Mr. Crigger said, ''I don't know about the status'' of such clauses.

In some suits, one question is whether the vehicles' suspension, which Ford designed, is partly responsible.

Ms. Claybrook said that the failures echoed a problem with tread on Firestone 500 tires that arose in 1978, when she was the administrator of the safety agency. That case, which also involved a large recall, was a severe financial blow to Firestone and was one reason it was acquired in 1988 by Bridgestone.

Of the tires affected by the announcement today, about two-thirds came new on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles and Ranger and F-150 pickup trucks, Mercury Mountaineer sport utilities, as well as Mazda Navajo and B-series pickups. All were produced between 1991 and 2000. But millions of other tires were sold as replacements on other makes of vehicles. General Motors and Subaru, two other manufacturers that use Firestone for original equipment tires, said they had not had any reports of problems.

The problem, in fact, may be related in part to the vehicle, although statistics were sketchy today.

Explorers may predominate among the accidents because the vehicle is so popular. In addition, a tire failure in an Explorer may be a bigger problem than in other vehicles, said David A. Champion, the director of auto testing for Consumer Reports magazine.

''S.U.V.'s are more prone to roll over than other classes of vehicles because of the high center of gravity,'' he said. Thus a tire failure that causes an accident ''can be more dramatic'' in a sport utility vehicle.

Ford said it still stood by its longtime supplier -- Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone were close friends and business associates nearly a century ago. But today, the tire maker and the carmaker gave slightly different advice to owners of Explorers that have the tires. Ford said the tires should be inflated to 26 to 30 pounds per square inch, and Firestone said 30. And though Ford first heard reports of a problem a year ago, a top Ford executive complained today that it had taken until late last month for Firestone to turn over data on its warranty experience with the tires provided on new Fords. (Manufacturers use warranty complaints to track defects, but tire warranties are customarily separate from vehicle warranties.)

Ford said it requested the data from Firestone amid growing concerns about information accumulating in the investigation by the highway safety agency. ''It's only fairly recently that we had enough data to do detailed analysis,'' said Martin Inglis, Ford's vice president for North American automotive operations.

He vowed that this would change. ''Whether they warrant the tires or we warrant the tires, we will share the information,'' he said.

Jon Harmon, a Ford spokesman, said that when Ford learned of the problems overseas, it bought some Wilderness tires from American customers who had driven them 30,000 to 40,000 miles, giving them new tires in exchange. Ford engineers then drove them in Arizona in February, trying to duplicate the tire failures, but they did not fail. Ford concluded that the tires were fine and that the problem lay in how the tires were used overseas, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Harmon said.

Mr. Inglis said Ford had asked every tire manufacturer in the world if it could supply some of the tires needed to replace the ones being recalled.

Tires were moving briskly today. In Jacksonville, Fla., Dennis Perkins, parts manager at Mike Davidson Ford, hustled to secure tires in anticipation of an onslaught of customers. He said he called a Goodyear warehouse at 1 p.m. and was told it had 5,000 Wrangler RTS tires, a potential substitute, in stock. When he called back at 1:45 p.m. all 5,000 were gone.

In Lubbock, Tex., ''I have had at least 40 calls today,'' said Judy Stanley, the telephone operator at Gene Messer Ford. ''Their first question is, 'What am I going to do?' They are worried.'' She added: ''I give them the 800 number to Firestone. I don't know where it's going from there.'' (Firestone said today that its 800 number was jammed.)

At Manhattan Ford, at 787 11th Avenue near 55th Street, Steve Huang drove up in a midnight-blue Mercury Mountaineer that he had bought there last week, complete with Firestone AT Wilderness tires. He reacted indifferently to the news.

''Recalls happen, and they are usually handled responsibly,'' said Mr. Huang, who sells surveillance cameras. ''I'm not worried. This is a great car, and it handles great.''

Continue reading the main story
 


Firestone tires recalled
August 9, 2000: 10:29 p.m. ET

Manufacturer recalling 6.5M sport utility vehicle tires cited in fatal accidents
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Bridgestone Corp. Wednesday recalled 6.5 million of its Firestone-brand tires -- the second largest tire recall in U.S. history -- in response to complaints the tires may be linked to fatal crashes involving sport utility vehicles.

The move comes amid intense pressure from major tire retailers, safety advocates and government regulators to pull the tires after receiving reports that the tires may be linked to as many as 46 deaths and hundreds of accidents. It poses the risk of millions of dollars in costs and lost sales for the company.

The reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration allege Firestone treads peel off their casings, sometimes while the vehicles are traveling at high speeds.

Company officials said they do not know the cause of the problem, but are confident that whatever the problem, it is isolated to the tires being recalled.

Garry Crigger, the company's executive vice president said heat could be a contributing factor.

"The vast majority of incidents are in the southern states of Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which suggests there may be a direct correlation between heat and tire performance," Crigger said. "Most of the incidents we have reviewed indicate improper maintenance or damage to the tires, which is often caused by under-inflation of tires. Under-inflated operation of any tire generates excessive heat, which can lead to tire failure."











The recall covers size P235/75R15 in all the ATX, ATXII and some Wilderness AT tires that are currently in use on some of the nation's most popular SUVs. The tires have been original equipment on Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru vehicles for several years, but most accidents reported to traffic safety officials have involved the best selling Ford Explorer. An estimated 60-to-70 percent of the recalled tires are on the Explorer and its twin Mercury Mountaineer models.

Mounting safety concerns prompted Discount Tire, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck and Co. to stop selling the tires in the last week. But an official with Ford Motor Co. (F: Research, Estimates) said they have confidence in Firestone and that the recall addresses any possible problems.

The company said 14.4 million of the tires have been produced since 1990, and that estimated 6.5 million are still on the road. None of the tires being recalled has been shipped from January, and a Ford official who appeared at the Firestone news conference said she believed none of new vehicles now on dealer lots has been affected.

The recall is the second largest in U.S. history, trailing only a recall of 14.5 million tires by Firestone in 1978. That recall nearly put the company into bankruptcy and led to the subsequent purchase by Japan's Bridgestone Corp. in 1990. Company officials would not estimate the cost of the latest recall, but admitted it would be "substantial."



"Obviously there will be a large financial impact on the company, but that's not our subject for discussion today," Crigger said. "Cost really is not the issue here. The issue is our concerns for customer safety and customer confidence in our brand." (344KB WAV)(344KB AIFF)

A Tokyo analyst who follows Bridgestone has estimated a recall could cost the company up to $500 million. But the loss of confidence in the Firestone brand caused by this recall could end up costing the company more than any immediate cost of the recall or litigation, said David Bradley, analyst with J.P. Morgan.

"I would guess the potential market share loss could be as much as 2 points to 3 points," said Bradley. "I could see a point going to both Goodyear (GT: Research, Estimates) and Michelin. But this could also raise investor awareness of the risk of liability lawsuits for both those companies, so I wouldn't rush out and buy any tire stocks right now."

Trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, shares of Bridgestone ended Wednesday day down 8.2 percent, or 185 yen, at 2,075 yen, extending losses from Monday after Friday's statement that Sears had stopped selling the problem tires. Bridgestone shares are down about 15 percent from last Friday's Japan close.

Shares dropped another 10 percent early Thursday to 1,859 yen, their lowest level in a year.



Crigger admitted that Firestone does not have enough inventory on hand to replace the recalled tires, and may have to purchase tires from competitors to satisfy customers.

Due to lack of inventory, the company is concentrating the recall in four hot-weather states - California, Arizona, Florida and Texas, where most of the accidents have been reported. That phase of the recall is likely to last until October, according to Crigger.

Next will come other southern states, to be followed by a national recall. The company said it will replace tires of concerned customers elsewhere in the country, using competitors' tires when necessary. Customers who have already replaced the tires themselves will be reimbursed for the expense.

"Some people will have to wait," said Crigger. "But we will satisfy our customers." (293KB WAV)(293KB AIFF)

Firestone and Ford officials tried to portray the recall as voluntary but over the last week the company has come under increased pressure to respond as the number of complaints continued to rise.

"We felt we must take this extraordinary step as a precaution to ensure consumer safety and consumer confidence in our brands," Crigger said. "So, no matter how many tires, no matter how many miles they have on them, we will replace them with new tires."

Crigger and other officials also said they believe many of the accidents occurred when tires were not properly inflated or maintained or repaired using plugs. He said customers who keep tires properly inflated should significantly reduce any chance of tire failure.

"We are not blaming the customers," said Crigger. "But tires are not indestructible."



NHTSA officials said Wednesday that the agency continues to investigate the accidents that have been linked to the tire failure, and that Bridgestone has been cooperating with the agency.

"I am pleased that Firestone has taken a positive step towards resolving this safety issue," said Rosalyn Millman, deputy administrator of the agency. "We will continue with our investigation to assure that the scope of the recall is complete and will adequately address all safety issues related to these tires."

An auto safety advocate charged the recall should have occurred years ago.

"The 46 deaths that have been reported are only those that are known publicly," said a statement from Joan Claybrook, the NHTSA administrator in the Carter administration and president of Public Citizen, the group started by Ralph Nader. "It's likely that there are many others that have not been attributed to the tires.

"The shame of this situation is that both Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone have known about this problem for eight years," Claybrook charged. "The companies have settled a number of lawsuits under gag orders, which prohibited the lawyers or victims in the cases from talking about them. As a result, safety officials and the public have been kept in the dark."

Officials from the companies denied they kept any safety officials in the dark, and said all information about the crashes have been turned over to authorities.

In addition to regulatory oversight, the company still faces the risk of litigation. A family injured last week when a tire blew apart on their sport/utility vehicle in Florida announced a lawsuit Monday against the tire maker.

Randall Smithwick, his wife, their 14-year-old twin daughters and a family friend were driving Thursday across the Everglades on a portion of Interstate 75 known as Alligator Alley when the vehicle's right rear tire blew apart. The Ford Explorer flipped three times before coming to rest on a grassy median. All were hurt.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the right rear tire tread separated, causing the vehicle to swerve. Authorities said the tires were the vehicle's original Firestone Wilderness ATs, as supplied by Ford Motor Co. NTHSA said it would add that accident to the list it is investigating.

A lawyer for the family has said that Firestone and Ford knew the tires were faulty when they began replacing them in South American countries as long as six years ago, but that the companies never alerted U.S. consumers to the dangers.

Ford has replaced Firestone tires free on vehicles sold in Venezuela, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia and Saudi Arabia after tires failed in those countries. Though not accepting blame, Ford said last week it swapped tires "as a customer satisfaction issue."

It has not made a decision on replacing tires for U.S. customers, but Ford Vice President Martin Inglis told Reuters Tuesday that warranties on the tires in question are covered by the supplier, not the automaker.

Firestone said it is offering free tire inspections in the U.S. in light of safety concerns and will remedy any problems to "the customer's satisfaction." 







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