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JULY 20, 2001

Ford under fire in Firestone case

THE American National Highway Transport Safety Administration continues to investigate the Firestone tires fitted to the Ford Explorer model in the USA, blamed for the spate of fatal crashes that befell the gigantic 4x4 sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Firestone was blamed by Ford for the series of accidents that cost 203 lives and left 700 people injured, and if they were to be sued by relatives of the victims could see parent company Bridgestone forced out of Formula 1 as it attempts to foot what would undoubtedly be an astronomic compensation bill.

Initial response from the NHTSA appears to side with Ford on the matter, and Firestone is disputing the initial decision of the government body to issue an 'Initial Defect Decision' on its product.

"Firestone was asked to recall some of the tires and they refused to do so. Therefore, NHTSA will issue an initial defect decision, the next step toward a forced recall," declared the US Department of Transportation. "NHTSA's responsibility is the safety of the American people, and we will adhereto a process that will ensure the recall of unsafe tires."

Firestone has already recalled 6.5 million tires and feels that it is Ford, not itself, which is at fault. John Lampe, the Bridgestone/Firestone Chairman for the USA, said: "If the real issue at hand is the safety of the driving public - and we believe it is -then taking more of our tires off the road is not the solution.

"We now know this to be a fact: you can take every Firestone tire off every Explorer and the rollovers and fatal accidents will continue. We've seen it in Venezuela, and we are now seeing it in the US."

Ford announced the breaking of a 100-year supply deal with Firestone earlier this year, but even since the replacement of the Bridgestone-owned firm the accidents have continued. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the US government's House Energy and Commerce Committee, claimed that his staff analyzed confidential data turned over by other tire manufacturers and found that some of the replacement tires had more property damage claims than the Firestone tires. The investigation continues...